Softbank to Sell Apple's iPhone in Japan This Year
Published on: 4th June 2008
TOKYO -(Dow Jones)- Softbank said Wednesday it has won the right to sell Apple's iPhone in Japan and will market the popular next-generation phone in 2008, in a coup for the nation's third-largest mobile communications carrier.
In a brief statement, the company said that unit Softbank Mobile "has signed an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone to Japan later this year," without specifying a release date, pricing or whether the deal was exclusive.
A company spokesman said he can't give any more details on their contract at the moment, declining to say whether the contract was in preliminary stages or if further disclosure is prohibited by the contract with Apple.
The deal is the latest move by Softbank in its aggressive bid to bring in new customers since it bought Vodafone Group's Japanese mobile phone business in 2006.
While Softbank currently ranks third in terms of total subscribers in Japan, last fiscal year it gained the largest number of subscribers on a monthly net basis thanks to new services such offering free calls between users of its mobile phones.
As of the end of April, it had 18.78 subscribers, of which nearly 80% are users of its third-generation service with broadband Internet access speed.
For Apple, Japan's large but saturated mobile phone market will be an important stepping stone in its bid to expand its global mobile phone share.
Officials at Apple Japan were not immediately available for comment.
While Softbank will be the first carrier in Japan to enter into a pact with Apple to sell the phone, larger rival NTT DoCoMo said it hasn't given up on a deal yet.
"If there's still a possibility of releasing iPhone from DoCoMo, we would consider it, though we cannot comment on whether we have specific negotiation plans with Apple," an NTT DoCoMo spokesman said, adding that the iPhone is an attractive product that could appeal to Apple fans in Japan.
Apple has already moved away from signing an exclusive deal with a single carrier, suggesting that there may still be a chance for NTT DoCoMo or other carriers to sell the iPhone, which has been a huge success in the U.S.
For instance, mobile operators Vodafone Group PLC and Telecom Italia SpA said earlier this month they will distribute the iPhone in Italy, the first time that multiple carriers will offer the device in one market.
Apple has been in talks with a number of different Asian carriers. In Hong Kong and Macau, Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd. will sell the smart phone later this year.
Singapore Telecommunications, Bharti Airtel Ltd. of India, Globe Telecom of the Philippines and SingTel subsidiary Optus in Australia will also sell the iPhone in their respective markets later this year.
But questions remain about iPhone's competitiveness against domestic products from Japanese electronics giants who work closely with the country's three major carriers. Apple maintains tight control over its iPhone designs and Japanese mobile phones already offer advanced features including digital TV, high-resolution cameras, games, electronic money and music.
An analyst at a brokerage in Japan said Softbank's bid to launch the iPhone may not help it attract that many new subscribers. He said that because Japanese cellphone users are accustomed to sending text messages, iPhone's touch screen style may not appeal to them.
-By Kazuhiro Shimamura and Juro Osawa, Dow Jones Newswires; 813-5255-2929;
(Hiroyuki Kachi contributed to this article.)
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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