SingTel, NTT DoCoMo tie up to push 3G

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc. will work together on developments related to third-generation (3G) mobile technology, including ensuring that subscribers to their 3G services can roam between the two countries, they said in separate statements Tuesday.

The two companies have signed an agreement to jointly pursue developments in Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology and services, as well as wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), according to the statement.

The two carriers plan to pool their resources to offer a suite of interoperable services such as video streaming, videoconferencing and location-based services. They will also address the issue of compatibility of handsets for their networks. The companies will investigate the technology of integrating 3G and Wi-Fi networks, according to the statement.

Although SingTel and DoCoMo are among Asia’s strongest telecommunications providers, they are at different stages of 3G deployment. DoCoMo launched its Foma service in October 2001 but has struggled to garner mass support for the service, with subscriptions still under the 350,000 level in a country with 80 million mobile subscribers.

In February, DoCoMo admitted that the service was not living up to the expectations of customers, who complained of poor coverage, bulky handsets with short battery life and a lack of 3G specific services. The company promised to address those issues.

SingTel, which was granted a 3G license by the national regulator in April 2001, is yet to roll out a 3G service, restricting itself to offering a Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) service enhanced with General Packet Radio Service (GPRS).

As part of its license conditions, SingTel must launch a nationwide 3G service by December 2004. Late last year, SingTel said it would launch services some time in 2003, once the results of a trial had been analyzed.

An agreement between SingTel and DoCoMo to offer mutual 3G roaming could also benefit Australian consumers, as SingTel has shown itself keen to develop regional services through its wholly-owned Australian subsidiary SingTel Optus. So far, only Hutchison Telecoms (Australia) Ltd. is the only carrier to have launched 3G services in Australia.

SingTel said it would share the experience from the joint development with its other regional associate companies in India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Earlier Tuesday the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported that NTT DoCoMo has also signed an agreement with Hong Kong’s Hutchison Telephone Co. and will announce details of that arrangement later this week.