What's up in Japan ?
Nothing spectacular as far as incumbents are concerned. As their 3G lead is shrinking, KDDI seek new growth engines through CDMA-GSM roaming ; NTT DoCoMo try to think positive despite gloomy news (i-mode struggling even in Australia) ; and after posting a first non disastrous month in a long time (+5,000 subs in June), Vodafone KK seem eager to play a role in the VNO frenzy to come in Japan.
More exciting : three new 3G licences are to be awarded by the end of this year ; two in the 1.7 GHz band (FDD) and one in the 2.0 GHz band (TDD). The first two should land in the hands of Softbank and e-Access, while IP Mobile Inc are betting on VoIP & TD-CDMA. They have the techno thanks to their partner IPWireless but their hunt for new investors seems sterile and they lack the marketing know-how. Another TDD competitor, Willcom Inc, proves to have both the technological know-how (Kyocera is a shareholder with 30%) and the deep pockets (the highly controversial Carlyle Group is on board too with 60%). KDDI Corporation hold the last 10% : can the regulator allow this cdma2000 player in the W-CDMA arena ?
There's clearly a window of opportunity for a new player with money, ambitions, and the potential to fill the pipes. With or against the other competitors.
Unsurprisingly enough, Livedoor Co. Ltd recently expressed their plans to apply for a 2.0 GHz licence. They seem to have all it takes, even if their President & CEO, Takafumi Horie, scares the hell out of the Japan Inc establishment since he tried to take over Nippon Broadcasting System (Livedoor are suing Fuji TV for a potential illegal poison pill).
So the company previously listed as Livin' On The EDGE and then EDGE eventualy decided to bid for 3G. If not as famous as Softbank, Livedoor managed to build a fairly impressive interactive / marketing empire in Japan and across the globe. Should they make it in Japan, they could very well make it elsewhere, starting with China or the Americas. Among their jewels :
- Livedoor.com : the third portal in Japan and #40 in the World. One should notice a strategic partnership with SKYPE...
- Livedoor Mobile : founded in 2004 in order to boost the creation of mobile sites, this wireless side of the portal should become the base of the future mobile operator.
- MyRice.com : formerly Lycos China and now a leading convergent portal - in the World's top 100 thanks to 5M daily visitors and 35M daily hits. Livedoor can also leverage on their Dalian unit, China Livedoor Software Development. They even have a subsidiary in Thailand (EDGE Siam).
- interactive marketing is clearly a major asset, going glocal through subsidiaries and partnerships with ethnic marketing specialists. mailcreations.com (a subsidiary of Livedoor Inc, their US branch) claim over 200M opt-in e-mails worldwide : 85M in the US (2,5M hispanics), 22M in LatAm, 16M in Europe and 33M in Asia thanks to such initiatives as melma!, a portal devoted to e-mail news : melma! Spain was created after the original Japanese melma!. by Livedoor Interactive / Cyberclick Agent, the Spanish unit located in Barcelona (also a specialist in WAP & i-mode sites). Livedoor also owns EX Marketing and ValueClick Japan.
Among Livedoor's other assets : SeekOver (a US search engine), Cázalo.com (a Spanish search engine based on the ODP), Innovation Lab (the Group's R&D arm), EDGE Telecom, Joboon (formerly Livedoor Career), Turbolinux (Penguin Inside ?), Livedoor Factoring...
Also to be noticed :
- Livedoor Finance : this is Japan, and any player can turn out to be a potential banker.
- Contents : if they failed in taking over NBS, Livedoor are clearly focusing on contents everywhere. In Europe, their Berlin unit (Livedoor Europe) licenses local software mobile contents. In the US, they clinched a licensing deal with WAU Móvil, a mobile content provider working with 20 operators across Latin America ; Livedoor's True Tones will cover 8 countries for a start. Livedoor also holds AlienQuest.com (a game portal), and an intriguing Broadband Pictures Inc... Consistant, but Livedoor arrived late after the Japanese mobile content wars and remains a dwarf in contents. Their strength seems to lie more in their swiftness or their ability to deliver. Well, that's something.
Up to now, Softbank has been quite a disapointment in the wireless arena, but they're much stronger now. Can Livedoor take the helm ? Can both succeed at the same time ? Can a non-Japanese player make a surprise 3G late check-in ? How will 2G incumbents deal with Mobile Number Portability next year and new competitors soon after ? To be continued.