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NTT DoCoMo Inc. on Wednesday launched a trial run of its third-generation mobile phone service that promises to eventually allow users to watch video transmissions on their handsets.

The receivers DoCoMo has distributed for the trial so far do not allow for video transmissions. DoCoMo said Friday it is putting off distribution of video-capable models due to a software glitch.

Two receivers are currently being tested; one allows for faster i-mode service, while the other is a card that plugs into PCs for high-speed data transmissions.

The four-month trial is expected to give the operator a better idea of the extent to which the new technology may be utilized.

Initially, the trial will be limited to Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama.

Third-generation mobile phone technology can transmit electronic data at between 64 and 384 kilobits per second — between six and 40 times faster than the firm’s current system, which handles the hugely popular i-mode service.

“My first impression is it’s great,” said Shintaro Yanagisawa, 24, a marketing company employee who got an i-mode upgrade. “It’s so fast.”

The souped up transmission speeds are supposed to enable users to watch motion pictures on their handset screens, including images of the person they are talking with.

Another benefit is far better voice quality.

NTT DoCoMo, the mobile phone arm of telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., is distributing 4,500 IMT-2000 mobile phones on a free-rental basis to trial participants chosen by lottery from 147,000 applicants.

The handsets are free. Users pay only transmission fees of between 100 and 150 yen for three minutes — about 1.8 times the charge for i-mode phones.

DoCoMo had initially promised full commercial 3G service for the Tokyo area by late May, but bugs in the system have pushed back the commercial launch to Oct. 1.

The service — dubbed FOMA, a quasi-acronym for “freedom of mobile multimedia access” — would cover a 30-km radius from the center of Tokyo.

That later start date, however, was cast into some uncertainty Tuesday when the government said it is delaying approval due to the system’s instability.

The company has yet to set out clear coverage areas for other cities but currently hopes to launch FOMA services in Osaka and Nagoya in December and in other major Japanese cities next spring.

Industry analysts said lowering fees and expanding coverage will be key to expanding the user base.

The company believes it will be difficult to attract users from the general public initially, due to the relatively high fees and limited coverage area. One DoCoMo executive said the service “will center on business users.”

Yoshihiro Fujita, 28, who works for a computer software company and got an upgraded i-mode phone, said he would buy a new 3G phone — but only if it’s about the same price as i-mode phones at 30,000 yen.

NTT DoCoMo has not given a price for the 3G phones, but they are expected to be more expensive than current phones.

“It’s fun to be able to use something new,” said Fujita. “It’s so cool.”

DoCoMo has promised to pass on some of its huge profits to customers. Earlier this month, the company announced record group net profits of 365.51 billion yen for fiscal 2000, which ended March 31, up 45 percent on the strength of i-mode.

The previous record was 252.14 billion yen in 1999.

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