Internet-compatible mobile phones in Japan set to top 10 million

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The Independent Online

The number of Japanese who access the Internet by mobile phone is set to surpass 10 million by the end of May, just 16 months after Internet-compatible handsets first arrived in the country's stores, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The number of Japanese who access the Internet by mobile phone is set to surpass 10 million by the end of May, just 16 months after Internet-compatible handsets first arrived in the country's stores, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Sleek handsets with Web-browsing and e-mail functions have become the hottest segment of Japan's incandescent market for mobile phones.

It's a trend that analysts say may help Japan catch up with the United States and other leaders in the race to develop online business.

Though the percentage of Japanese homes connected to the Internet is estimated to be less than half than in the U.S., Internet-friendly mobile phones are enticing millions of Japanese online with the promise of cheap and convenient access.

According to the mass-circulation Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's four principal mobile phone companies had a total of 9.84 million subscribers to their Internet services by the end of last week.

With sales of Internet handsets exploding, more than 10 million are expected to be in use by the end of this month, the newspaper said.

NTT DoCoMo Inc., the country's largest mobile phone service, started the boom in February 1999 when it introduced its "i-mode" handset.

It comes with an oversized liquid crystal screen designed for accessing specially configured Web sites and playing video games.

NTT DoCoMo has sold more than 6 million i-mode phones since then - so many that it was forced to temporarily reduce shipments to ease pressure on its overloaded communications network.

A study in February by media consultancy Access Media International suggested that just 11 percent of Japanese homes are online, compared with about 37 percent in the U.S.

One reason fewer Japanese than Americans use the Internet at home is that ownership of personal computers is less widespread.

But a survey this month by Tokyo University suggested that as many as one in four Japanese now have access to the Internet, a number boosted by rising sales of Internet-compatible phones.

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