Rivals Softbank, KDDI roll out latest iPhone model

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone model debuted Friday in the domestic market, and for the first time it is being sold by two rival carriers, a move expected to heat up the cellphone competition.

Softbank Corp., which has been the sole iPhone agent for the last three years, and newcomer KDDI Corp. both bragged about their strengths to customers. In short, Softbank stressed experience and KDDI boasted connectivity.

Hundreds of frenzied consumers lined up at many shops across the nation to purchase the new iPhone 4S.

KDDI, the nation’s second-biggest carrier in terms of subscriber numbers, joined the festive mood of the launch by providing the product from its au brand, breaking Softbank’s dominance in selling Apple’s popular handsets in Japan.

“Finally, au is starting to provide the iPhone. I am really thrilled,” said KDDI President Takashi Tanaka during a launch event held at KDDI’s exhibition studio in the trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Softbank, the third-biggest mobile phone carrier, has been strongly promoting the iPhone as its signature handset and made steady growth attaining the No. 1 position in new subscribers each month over the past 18 months.

“Just about a year ago, I said au was slow to adjust to the smartphone trend with a feeling of self-reproach. We’ve finally arrived at this point: this is the beginning of everything,” Tanaka said.

The iPhone 4S, a 3.5-inch multitouch screen, looks almost the same as the previous model, the iPhone 4, but it has improved camera functions and can process actions quicker with its dual-core CPU.

Tanaka repeatedly stressed KDDI’s strength as a stable communications network, because Softbank’s network is often criticized as being too slow or unstable.

While KDDI celebrated the company’s launching of the iPhone 4S on Friday morning, Softbank also marked its debut with more than 200 people lining up in front of the flagship Omotesando Softbank shop, located a few blocks away from KDDI’s studio.

Softbank President Masayoshi Son welcomed KDDI’s iPhone entry and competition.

“We take pride in having been selling iPhone for a long time,” Son said.

Son said the experience gives Softbank an edge against KDDI because Softbank shop staff are more knowledgeable about the products.

He also pointed out some of the variables, such as KDDI’s version not being able to use some of the applications and slower maximum Internet speed, although Tanaka said he is confident the actual speed during daily use on KDDI’s network will satisfy users, as it offers a smooth connection even in extremely crowded areas like Shinagawa and Shinjuku stations.

As Tanaka showed confidence, people who chose au’s iPhone appear to have made their decisions mainly because of the network quality.

As for prices, Softbank’s monthly unlimited Internet fee is cheaper at ¥4,410, while au will charge ¥4,980. Comparing promoted plans of the two carriers, au offers basic monthly charges of either ¥980 or ¥780, and Softbank offers ¥980. In addition to these fees, users pay calling fees and the handset price itself if they choose to pay monthly for two years.