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The challenging of the old Tsunami - the case of NTT DoCoMo - competitive, regulatory, innovation, network and overseas challenges

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In recent years, the leading Japanese wireless operator NTT DoCoMo has risen frombeing largely unknown outside Japan to international fame. Ground-breaking serviceinnovations such as the world’s first wireless internet service, I-mode, the world’sfirst third generation wireless service FOMA, as well as the company’s successfulproliferation of its W-CDMA 3G technologies as the UMTS standard in Europe havegenerally impressed the troubled telecom industry on its brink to the new era wirelessdata services. Conversely, much scientism has been aired whether the NTT DoCoMoexperience applies to European and US contexts due to differences in e.g.demographics, Internet penetration, and wireless industry structures. To date, theseconsiderations have largely been based on anecdotal reports in trade magazines and anincreasing number of case studies focused primarily on the I-mode service (e.g.Mulder and Simpson (2001); Harvard (2000)). Notable, exceptions are Ratliff (2001)and Williamson and Meegan (2002) that however both point to the need for elevatinginsights on NTT DoCoMo. This working paper sets out to contribute to a moreelaborate picture of NTT DoCoMo.The working paper is outlined as follows. Departing from a sketch of DoCoMo’scurrent challenges from the perspective of the CEO Keiji Tachikawa as the financialyear 2003 is coming to an end (March 31 2003), a brief introduction to DoCoMo’shistory and its innovative capabilities initiates the effort to present a more detailedpicture of the company. Then, the normal perception of NTT DoCoMo as a de factomonopolist with all dominating market and bargaining power is challenged by meansof longitudinal study of the Japanese wireless market’s development from 1992 to2003. During this period, DoCoMo’s leadership position as increasingly beenchallenged by new competitors that emerged from an industry consolidation andregulatory forces. It is found that the nature of competition has shifted fromDoCoMo’s undisputed dominance to a more dynamic environment signified byintense service innovation based competition. Then, insights are provided as how theNTT DoCoMo competes in its new environment. Three key strategic pillars areanalyzed, namely the company’s to approaches the (1) orchestrating of innovationwith the examples of I-mode, C-mode, and Telematics services, (2) relationalchallenges with the examples of technology standardization alliances, interfirmrelationships with handset providers and internationalization partners, and lastly (3)how new growth avenues are explored.

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Lars Engel Nielsen, Volker Mahnke

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