NTT DoCoMo Inc. officially delayed the launch of its next-generation cellular service from May 30 to Oct. 1 but refused to call it a postponement.

Instead, DoCoMo officials said the new schedule will allow for checks of software for antenna bases, switch facilities and handset terminals, and that test services will commence May 30.

“Something unexpected could happen, given (what happened to) i-mode and the 503i (model),” DoCoMo President Keiji Tachikawa told a Tokyo news conference. “The possibility is not zero.”

I-mode, DoCoMo’s scaled-down Internet service for mobile phones, has broken down several times due to massive traffic volume. The company was also forced to recall 230,000 handsets on Feb. 9 due to software bugs.

The news comes two days after an unofficial announcement and amid growing concerns over the future of third-generation (3G) multimedia phone services.

Even with the delay, DoCoMo will be the first in the world to roll out 3G service, and the move could affect decisions by overseas cellular operators, who are closely watching to see whether DoCoMo will succeed in the 3G phone business.

In addition, overseas firms that may link up with DoCoMo on a global roaming phone service are taking a wait-and-see attitude before making huge investments for antenna bases and other facilities.

The pilot 3G service, featuring downloading speed of 384 kilobits per second and uploading speed of 64 kbps, will be restricted to Tokyo’s 23 Wards, Yokohama and Kawasaki.

Full service is now scheduled to begin in October but only within a 30-km radius from the center of Tokyo. It will expand to Osaka and Nagoya in December and to other major cities next spring.

DoCoMo is aiming to attract 150,000 subscribers before next April and 6 million by the end of fiscal 2003.

DoCoMo has aggressively invested in some foreign cellular operators to form overseas alliances based on DoCoMo’s W-CDMA technology, one of two international standards for 3G, as global roaming is expected to be a key drawcard for the service.

Cellular operators such as British Telecommunications PLC are suffering huge debts from enormous government license fees and plummeting stock prices.

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