Microsoft, Softbank lay out 'Net plan for Japan

Softbank president and Internet buccaneer Masayoshi Son was all smiles as he promised that his latest 'Net company, a joint venture with Microsoft and a local utility, will offer the most bandwidth bang for the buck in Japan.

Softbank president and Internet buccaneer Masayoshi Son was all smiles as he promised that his latest 'Net company, a joint venture with Microsoft and a local utility, will offer the most bandwidth bang for the buck in Japan.

On stage with Microsoft Japan's President Makoto Narukei and Tokyo Electric Power Chairman Hiroshi Araki, Son announced that the new yet-to-be-named company will provide wireless Internet access to Japanese at a bandwidth greater than 1.5M bits per second (bps). He added that the 'Net access price will be cheaper than the service local carrier Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) is planning to offer.

Son said that the new venture will begin trial services on Oct. 1, with full customer services starting mid-2000.

The three companies will each stake 31 percent of the 6 billion [yen (US$52.3 million) slated to be invested in the joint venture. The remainder of the company will be owned by Softbank affiliate Yahoo Japan and other investors.

The deal was widely predicted in the Japanese press. But today's announcement left some major questions still unanswered -- namely, what technology will the venture use to deliver remote access cheaply to Japan's crowded homes and how cheap is cheap access.

"The key is how much the receivers for the system will cost. If they cost around 100,000 yen, then the venture will have to subsidise them because they will be too expensive for private users," said Tokyo Mitsubishi Securities Senior Analyst Toshiaki Iba.

The three company chiefs wouldn't comment on the technology the system would use, but repeatedly said that it would deliver more bandwidth than NTT's 128K-bps ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) lines for less money than the reported flat-rate access fee of 10,000 yen per month that the carrier is planning to roll out later this year.

Son also said that the new venture will offer free Internet services to schools for 10 years as part of an effort to popularize the use of the Internet in Japan. He added that graduating students might also become a committed user base for the venture in the future.

The Softbank head, who has recently been involved in a spate of Internet-related deals in Japan, said that he expects the venture to attract over one million users within three years.

Softbank, based in Tokyo, is at +81-3-5641-0386 or http://www.softbank.co.jp/. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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