The much-awaited number portability started Tuesday, with mobile carriers offering new gadgets and services to woo customers.

Users can now take their telephone numbers with them when they move to another service provider, although their mobile e-mail addresses will have to change.

“We have been preparing for this moment, improving music functions and designs on newly launched mobile phones,” said Hirofumi Morozumi, general manager of consumer business at KDDI Corp., the No. 2 carrier.

He was speaking at a launch ceremony for number portability at the Bic Camera in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district. Top carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Softbank Mobile Corp., which holds the No. 3 spot, were also at the launch.

Bunya Kumagai, managing director of marketing at DoCoMo, said his firm is ready to compete.

“We are proud of our new lineup of models that download music more quickly and services like network coverage,” Kumagai said.

Softbank President Masayoshi Son captured the most attention at the launch because of the firm’s surprise announcement the night before that it was slashing phone charges starting Thursday. Customers will be able to make phone calls and send e-mail to other Softbank phone users for free during daytime hours.

“Users can surf the Net anytime and anywhere, and as much as you want, at a cheaper price than rivals,” Son said. “More surprises are to come,” he added.

The other carriers said they would not respond to the announcement until they saw how users react to the price cuts.

“Softbank’s move was much-anticipated. But we don’t intend to slash prices for the time being. Instead, we aim to strengthen our handsets’ music and download services, and improve their designs,” KDDI’s Morozumi said.

People browsing the mobile phone displays at the Yurakucho store were not in a hurry to change service providers.

Hiroshi Horikawa, a 24-year-old part-time worker who has a Softbank phone, said he will stay put.

“I was planning to change to KDDI or NTT DoCoMo, but since Softbank announced the price cut last night, I decided to stay with it because the price is the most important factor,” he said.

Daigo Nakayama, 33-year-old office worker who has used DoCoMo for seven years, said he too will not be changing carriers.

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