- NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest cellular telephone operator, is once again rumored to be in stake talks with a foreign mobile operator.
Among the companies linked with DoCoMo in recent weeks have been Telecom New Zealand and Australia's C&W Optus, as well as South Korea's SK Telecom and America Online, with DoCoMo said to be keen on a stake in AOL Japan.
This time it is the planned wireless joint venture of SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth The two carriers announced plans in April to merge their cellular operations to create a carrier that will be second in size only to Verizon.
The Financial Times reported in its Thursday Asian edition that discussions are at an early stage and could leave DoCoMo with a minority stake in the venture. Dow Jones Newswires also reported the talks, quoting people familiar with the situation, and said DoCoMo is looking to take a stake of between 10% and 15% in the new venture.
"We've been seeking a partner in the US, it's an attractive market but there is nothing we can officially announce at this time," NTT DoCoMo spokeswoman Miki Nakajima said Thursday.
Combined, the two companies serve more than 16 million customers and operate in 40 out of the 50 largest wireless markets in the U.S. Additionally, BellSouth Wireless Data operates a nationwide packet data service that includes e-mail service and can be accessed through dedicated terminals.
NTT DoCoMo's I-mode service in Japan, which gives users access to e-mail and Internet services from their cellphones, operates on a packet network which means users are billed only for the data they send and receive rather than the time online -- a significant advance on many current wireless Internet services which feature per-minute charging.
In July the company made its first move into the European market through a tie-up with KPN Mobile NV and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. The three companies pledged to work together in securing European third-generation mobile licenses. The tie-up came after DoCoMo took a stake in KPN Mobile in May and in Hong Kong's Hutchison Telephone in December 1999.
NTT DoCoMo, in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/.