3G mobile phones finally arrive

Enough bandwidth to download videos, chat face-to-face

Carrying the hopes of an industry, Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. on Monday launched a new generation of cellphones that allow users to talk face-to-face via video and surf the Internet faster than before.

BRAVING A DECADE of economic gloom in the world's second-largest economy, DoCoMo began selling the new phones in the initial service area of greater metropolitan Tokyo under the brand name FOMA, for Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access.

Because they transmit at speeds six to 40 times faster than current cellphones and use a radio spectrum set aside for the new service, they are the world's first third-generation handsets.

About half a dozen people lined up outside one retail shop in Tokyo's Shinjuku district in rainy weather to buy the 3G phones and at 5 p.m. on Monday, 4,000 of the phones had already been sold.

One couple, Yoko Saito and Hiroyuki Karasawa, lined up on Monday to buy the Panasonic video phone, built by Matsushita Communication Industrial Co Ltd.

"We wanted to buy the video phone so we could keep in touch and see each other anytime," said Saito, 26, who paid $642.30 for her new phone.

It was a low-key beginning for a technology that had investors and other wireless carriers in a frenzy just two years ago, resulting in a huge stock boom and more than $100 billion spent on 3G licenses.

Part of the reason for 3G's underwhelming start was that DoCoMo, Japan's top mobile operator, had formally launched 3G four months earlier as a trial service to iron out problems in an unstable network.

News source: msnbc.com

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