The head of Japan’s fourth-biggest mobile phone company is banking on the old maxim that simpler means better.
Tu-Ka President Yuji Tsuda doesn’t think all users want the extra functions provided by third-generation, or 3G, phone technology.
In its large-scale and attention-grabbing advertising campaign — “simple phone, simple lifestyle” — that began in April, Tu-ka questions the necessity of state-of-the-art functions in promoting its 2G phones.
The campaign asks the consumer, “Aren’t phones meant for talking?” and “Does it make you really happy to see moving images with your phone?”
As it turns out, Tu-Ka had no choice but to stay with its 2G service because the government only granted 3G licenses to the top three providers: au mobile phone service, NTT DoCoMo Inc. and J-Phone Co.
But even so, Tu-Ka President Yuji Tsuda said his company is determined to carve out its own niche.
“While there are people who always want to have the latest functions on their mobile phones, there are still many, even young people, who do not have such needs,” Tsuda said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.
The 3G network, which provides a wider range of wave frequency, enables faster downloads compared to 2G, allowing phones to be used abroad, as a TV phone or to watch movies.
Tu-Ka was surprised by the positive response to the campaign. Sales of Tu-Ka handsets rose 15 percent in April from a year earlier.
“While some asked why we are picking a fight with the people who are in 3G, there were also many who expressed they were glad that somebody finally said it (that recent phones are too complicated),” Tsuda said.
A survey by Tu-Ka’s advertising arm last autumn on 1,000 people in their 20s and 30s found that 70 percent believe their mobile phones are sufficient with just phone and e-mail functions.
Some of those surveyed just aren’t technically oriented people, but others were the type who prefer to use specialized high-tech devices, such as a digital camera or personal computer, to perform the whiz-bang functions boasted by 3G phones, according to Tsuda.
He said his company is reaching out to such users with its TK22 series, which has no still or video camera function but has a stylish and slim design. The product — 15 mm when folded, the world’s thinnest — is the symbolic product in Tu-Ka’s marketing campaign, he said.
Yuichi Kogure, a mobile phone researcher and a lecturer on information and communication theory at Toita Women’s College in Minato Ward, Tokyo, says Tu-Ka’s strategy is “the best choice” given the circumstances.
“The reason phone companies move to 3G is not necessarily to provide a better service, but because there is no other choice,” he said. “There is a shortage in wave frequency due to the increase in subscribers.”
But while it takes a lot of money to invest in 3G, many of the phone models have drawn criticism for their poor performance, he said.
“The situation is troubling to some companies,” Kogure said. “The functions users need the most, and which are also the main functions in 3G — mail, camera and image transmission — are already provided by Tu-Ka. Actually, there are not that many revolutionary functions exclusive to 3G phones.”
Tsuda also said that because Tu-Ka is free from investing in 3G, it can concentrate its resources on better service and lower costs for its customers.
DoCoMo’s plant and equipment investment for its 3G network will amount to 1 trillion yen in the three years to March 2004. What’s more, development cost per 3G handset model can be as high as 10 billion yen — 10 times that of 2G, which uses established technology, he said.
In Europe, the high investment cost and the collapse of the “communication bubble” led many companies to give up or suspend their shift to 3G.
“We will keep launching characteristic products at reasonable prices,” Tsuda said. “Please keep watching.”
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