Mega Consortium in IP phone bid

Net providers eye free service for subscribers in 2003

The Mega Consortium — a newly established alliance of Japanese Internet service providers — plans to launch a Web-based phone service that would allow millions of subscribers to call each other free of charge.

According to informed sources, the consortium is hoping that IP phone service, based on Internet Protocol technology, will be in place next year.

Some consortium members, including KDDI Corp. and NEC Corp., have already made unilateral maneuvers to tap into the IP phone market.

KDDI will launch a pilot IP phone service in December, targeting subscribers to DION, the firm’s Internet service for users of high-speed asymmetrical digital subscriber line.

NEC will also launch an IP phone service for its BIGLOBE subscribers around the same time.

The Mega Consortium was set up in June with KDDI, NEC, Japan Telecom Co. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. as core members.

Its goal is to integrate the IP phone services of its members, thus ensuring access to each subscriber to the 40 or so providers in the consortium.

Thus far, free IP phone services have only been available to subscribers of the same Internet provider.

At present, the four core service providers in the consortium — BIGLOBE, DION, Japan Telecom’s ODN, and Matsushita’s Panasonic hi-ho — have about 10 million noncorporate clients.

The number of people with access to free IP phone services will boost this figure considerably once the service providers include their corporate clients in their IP phone service network, something they plan to do in the future.

Under the Mega Consortium’s plans, subscribers will be able to make unlimited phone calls to each other after paying a flat monthly fee.

In NEC’s case, BIGLOBE subscribers can use conventional telephones to make IP phone calls. For calls to nonsubscribers, BIGLOBE charges a national flat-rate of 8 yen to 9 yen per three minutes, with the user assigned an 11-digit phone number that starts with 050.

Bus stop technology

Hino Motors Ltd., KDDI Corp. and Nippon Ericsson K.K. said Thursday they have jointly developed a service system that allows cell phone users to access bus information via their cell phones.

The system also allows users to dispatch signals to bus drivers and settle fares via wireless data transmission.

Using Bluetooth wireless technology, the system communicates with servers set up inside buses or at bus stops.

The cellular phone will alert users when a bus they are waiting for approaches a given stop and will provide information on its route, the companies said.

The three companies will display the system, dubbed the BT Conductor, at the Tokyo Motor Show, which will open Oct. 29 at the Makuhari Messe exhibition hall.