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CRU, “Climategate” and reporting in the Japanese media December 3, 2009

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Economy & Business, Energy, Environment, Japan, Media.
16 comments

Or the absence thereof.

It’s come to a point where the situation is beyond absurd. The story has been reported in all the respectable (and not so respectable) English media outlets I keep up with (NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, Times (UK), Guardian, Telegraph, the Indy, special mention of that esteemed outlet the Washington Times whose reporting hardly contained its glee), to a point where it is silly to accuse “the media” of greenwashing.

On the other hand, there seems to be a coordinated effort to keep this out of the Japanese mainstream press. Do a Google News search for say, “climate change” + “data” (気候変動 データ)  or “(global) warming” + “data” (温暖化 データ) or “CRU” (University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, for those of you who have been living under a rock (or in Japan) for the last week or so), and you get (if you are lucky) a grand total of three relevant Japanese language hits. A Bloomberg article, a Slashdot.jp piece and a Wired Vision piece buried in Nikkei’s PC Online publication’s security section. The Bloomberg and Slashdot pieces are dated Dec 2nd. The Wired Vision/PC Online piece is dated Nov 30 (but I suspect the editors thought it was a piece on hacking and it slipped through the net).

None of the major papers, Nikkei, Yomiuri, Asahi, Sankei, Mainichi… None appear to have a related story on this piece of pretty important news in any form searchable on the internet. NONE. Same goes for the TV media. Nothing on NHK, or any of the commercial terrestrial channels.

If I were a betting man, I would have money on this being a Ministry of the Environment Press Club managed greenwash of the most outrageous proportions.

So much for the new administration being a change from the old regime. Either the Minister and Vice-Minister (hello Minister Sakihito Ozawa, Vice-Minister Issei Tajima) are totally clueless, or are, like so many of their predecessors from the now exiled LDP, in cahoots with the bureaucrats in keeping a lid on important news (until at least  Copenhagen COP15, or maybe even longer).

So yet again, we have the media and other forces (the govt and/or bureaucracy and most likely business interests – who seem to have developed a taste for various green subsidies which are quickly turning into the new pork barrel money drip) seemingly taking a united stance against informing the general public about an actual topic worthy of discussion. Not like some actress caught doing drugs. Or the world’s best golf player’s dubious tastes in women.

It is highly unlikely that this story will be kept under wraps for too long. The story is too big for someone not to break rank and do a “scoop”, a week or two (or more?) after the rest of the world. And then the floodgates will open.

But it has to be asked, what are the media getting in return? So much talk of how commercial media (and their ecosystem partners) are in so much financial pain. Maybe something to ease that pain is in the works? I have a strong suspicion that might just be what the doctor ordered.

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iPhone’s global expansion July 5, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Economy & Business, Internet, Japan.
2 comments

The BBC reports that O2 is close to signing an exclusive deal for the iPhone rights in the UK. No news on whether it will be crappy GSM or 3G.

This is a change from earlier reports which suggested Vodafone was the front runner.

We shall see.

But if it does turn out that O2 does get the iPhone, that is sure to spark speculation as to the impact that has on the likely Japanese partner. All 3 major Japanese carriers have expressed interest. O2 is owned by Telefonica, which has strong ties to NTT DoCoMo. (O2 and Telefonica are part of the i-mode alliance)

But DoCoMo and Apple don’t feel like natural partners.

DoCoMo also has Napster under its wings, and I suspect that Apple will almost certainly insist that that has to go.

au(KDDI) also has its LISMO music service, which would also conflict with iTunes. I think KDDI has spent a lot more money promoting LISMO than DoCoMo has Napster.

In any case,will either be willing to cut loose the user base of its existing music services (for what they are worth)?

Softbank is leveraged to the hilt and whilst Son-san would no doubt like to partner with Apple, can they afford it if it became a bidding war against the big two? I’m sure the creditors won’t be too keen on taking that particular gamble. That said, Yahoo! Japan, which is part of the Softbank group, has a commercial tie-up with iTunes….

Here’s a totally crazy idea. What about emobile, the data only 3G carrier? Voice services using software VoIP. Apple would certainly have the upper hand in that relationship, and could have a go at running a mobile carrier through its partner. For one thing, it would have the only voice capable device on the network!

But then, the iPhone would probably look anorexic and grainy next to a 4.1″ 800×400 WVGA screen (Sharp EM ONE) which has a touchscreen (albeit not a multitouch one) AND a proper keyboard. Admittedly the Sharp is pretty heavy.

Even so, if I were Apple, I’d give the upstart some serious consideration. (I could also point them to a bargain solution to handle the voice infrastructure part, too. Although I do hear emobile are working on something themselves…)

From a purely technical perspective, it would seem from Apple’s tie-up with at&t that a 3G device if and when released would go down the UMTS route, pointing to DoCoMo/Softbank/emobile as more likely candidates than au(KDDI).

Of course, I’m one of the sceptics with regards to iPhone’s potential fortunes in Japan. Can (non-smartphone) users embrace the fact that the iPhone will need both hands to operate? I’m not so sure. Width apparently is a more important dimension than thickness for most Japanese. Length is apparently not an issue. Most collapse into a compact size when not in use. No sniggering at the back. We are talking phones.

The fact that the generic 10key is highly compatible with the Japanese alphabet means that semi-blind touch typing in Japanese is easy on a phone (many older people who have difficulty with a PC seem fine with using the phone interface, based on casual research observing people on the trains and elsewhere – using text messaging on the phone is certainly not limited to young people and businessmen here in Japan).

Without tactile feedback, that is going to be more difficult. (And I certainly don’t want to be on the same road as some idiot trying to type on an iPhone whilst driving. It is bad enough with a one-hand typist driver. Both are equally illegal, of course, but two hands on the iPhone means no hands on the wheel, which I suggest is a little more dangerous than just one hand on the wheel)

Also, the auto-correction and auto-completion techniques which are apparently well received in the US are not sufficient as is for the Japanese language. Predictive suggestions fill half the screen on my 3″ screen phone when I type a message, I can’t see how that will be compatible with typing on the same screen if I actually want to see some of the message I am composing. Well, actually, I can. It will work in the same way as pressing the space bar on a real keyboard with a Japanese IME installed, which calls up the list of choices. The virtual qwerty disappears and the list appears in its place. Once a choice is made, or the user hits a back key, the virtual keyboard will reappear. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I suspect there will be some additional challenges involved.

Of course, if Apple aren’t in a hurry to release an iPhone with a 3G chipset, the whole question is a non-starter.

[I guess there is another player on the scene, Willcom, the PHS network, if Apple really didn’t want any 3G phones which might be un-locked and exported…..]

Mobile phone meets Nintendo DS January 24, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, IT, Japan, Mobile.
1 comment so far

As part of the NTT DoCoMo Spring 2007 line-up (sounds like the fashion industry… and in a way, it is), Mitsubishi Electric announced the D800iDS, a two screen clamshell, the lower screen being a touch panel.

Apparently DS stands for “Direct & Smooth”. Conveniently it sounds exactly like this. (DS apparently stands for “dual screen” in Nintendo parlance)

Anyway, the D800iDS is out in February. It is pretty light on features, no integrated FeliCa for credit/debit/e-cash in your mobile phone (must admit I’ve never gotten round to using that feature yet), only a 1.3M pixel camera, no push-to-talk, no GPS, no global roaming, no music player, etc.

The touch screen does offer some potential benefits. The 2.2-inch touchscreen allows handwriting entry as well as traditional text entry via the (now virtual) keypad, and another entry method which takes advantage of a virtual keyboard to allow every Japanese hiragana character to be entered using 2 taps. (Yes, some phones do still offer an option of 2 tap entry on a normal physical keyboard, but most of us have probably forgotten the vaguely cryptic codes we used to type at ease when pagers were all the rage. )

[Historical note – pagers were really big in Japan in the pre-mobile phone era, and virtually all of my high school and university friends had one. Looking back, it is interesting to note that the mobile phone market lagged the European (or at least the UK) market in those early days. I had a cellphone in London before most of my Tokyo based friends got around to getting a mobile phone. Just look how the tables have turned (for the most part) now. I know the US press just loves to point to Europe when it wants to remind readers that it lags in mobile and broadband services, but if they did their homework they’d find East Asia is where it’s at. I guess language is a barrier….]

Anyway, this is where it gets interesting. (Yes, long preamble, blah blah blah, if you’re reading this you already know how tediously verbose I am in writing – compare and contrast to the shy retiring wallflower that I am in person)

Mitsubishi have announced a contest for iAppli (DoCoMo’s J2ME “application sandbox” thingy – ok sandbox maybe rather harsh) developers, to develop something interesting using D800iDS’s dual screen/touchscreen interface.

This certainly seems much more inclusive than the policy taken by Apple recently.

(OK, you give Mitsubishi and DoCoMo distribution rights of the submitted project as well as the right to use it in promotions, but you retain all other intellectual property rights which sounds pretty fair)

Applications close on Feb 7th, by which proposals need to be submitted using this form. People who qualify will be notified on Feb 9th, and will have until March 12th to complete development. You need to have a DoCoMo FOMA account so you can install your SIM card in the DS to test your DS iAppli with. (They’ll give you (to keep) a D800iDS if you get past the first paper exam hurdle.

Prizes on offer: 37V LCD TV for 1st prize (not full HD though, as Mitsubishi haven’t got any in the lineup which must be hurting sales and margins), 3 runners-up prizes are HDD/DVD DVRs, and some DoCoMo credits for worthy mentions.

Paying for MySpace on mobile? December 19, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Japan, Mobile.
5 comments

You gotta be kidding me.

MySpace & Cingular in new deal 

Mixi and Gree have virtually full functionality from any phone, on any network, without charge (OK, Mixi opened up messaging on phones just recently, but the other features were already available).

MySpace Japan isn’t going to be competitive without a free mobile offering…..

Another indication that both internet and mobile telco companies in the US don’t get it.

The walled garden subscription approach isn’t going to work. The mobile experience is inferior to the PC experience for sites like MySpace. Yet they charge for mobile and give access free to PC users…. OK…..

US (and Euro) mobile telcos and their partners have been poisoning the mobile internet experience for users. Talk about greedy bastards shooting themselves in the foot.

Remember, they can continue to make money on the data charges even if they open it up. They can even offer a two tier approach like the carriers in Japan. Everyone needs to realise that the mobile web will not be identical to the PC web. The message is certainly being understood here in Japan.

au My Page – Mobile personalized homepages and data storage in the sky for the masses is already here December 19, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Internet, Japan, Mobile.
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Not being an au/KDDI subscriber, I haven’t had the opportunity to try this, but My Page is a new (free) service launched by the #2 Japanese mobile telco which provides homepage personalisation, on-line data storage (photos and mail) and with both PC/mobile access. No syncing is currently provided, but they give you a full 100Mb of storage, which is probably plenty for most users. Basically, 20million+ users have the capability to access these services already. (depending on the phone you have, the range of functionality which can be used will vary)

My Page also provides some tools like calendar, photo album, blog, SNS, local search, all accessible from both mobile and PC. Search is provided by Google, of course.

DoCoMo has offered a similar service (but with SyncML based syncing of data between handset and server), but it costs (albeit just 100 yen a month) and only provides 4Mb storage. Because this is an extra service, I strongly suspect that user numbers are way lower than on au.

With the vast majority of phones having closed operating systems and with the carriers controlling the handset feature set, one might suspect that this would lead to a stifling of innovation. However, this market shows emphatically that this is not necessarily the case.

It is fine for independent software companies to produce mobile apps (and good luck to them), but for the average user, having to download applications is a turn-off and this leads to a substantial adoption barrier (bar the tech-savvy early adopter crowd).

The evolution of the mobile internet market in Japan is obviously different from that of the US (and virtually every other geography where internet connectivity is mainstream). The Japanese mobile internet market (and without a strict walled garden approach, I think the use of the term “internet” is appropriate here) evolved nearly concurrently with mainstream internet adoption on the PC platform.

Indeed, many users had their first taste of the internet on their phones, using i-mode or ezweb or JSky (as it was then, back in the J-Phone days). Japanese mobile users have had internet email access as default for years. No-one thinks twice about sending email from/to a PC from a phone, or vice-versa.

Whereas in the US (and elsewhere), the PC internet came first, and wireless is still barely there. It seems that the US mobile model can’t shake loose the memory of the way things unfolded on the PC. And why are we still stuck with SMS (I say this as a UK mobile phone user)???

In a comparison between the “closed” Japanese model, and the “open” US/European model, from a functionality perspective (and prices aren’t outrageous either), the Japanese model seems to have delivered more to users, faster, more efficiently (and created more successful mobile internet companies and IPOs).

And I put this down to the fact that the Japanese market did not yet have a “successful” PC model to copy, and the fact that the mobile telcos were more aware of their strong position and were able to position themselves at the center of the value chain, holding all the cards.

Also perhaps to the fact that users were perhaps more comfortable with the idea of a handset being an integrated unit (hardware, OS, applications, connectivity) rather than having an implicit expectation of being able to add applications as one would expect in the PC paradigm.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that, whilst I extend my best wishes for the dozens of ventures who are building mobile apps, I’d like to see a single example of a standalone application model which has worked in the mobile arena. And by worked, I mean penetration of the mass market, not a few thousand technophile early adopters.
For without a doubt, the mobile internet model is already a resounding success in Japan (many users use their phones to access data than to make phone calls), and stuff like mobile advertising (which relies on a mobile internet content ecosystem to get off the ground) is really old news.

I can see that mobile telcos elsewhere appear to be less than enthusiastic about opening up their systems (even with an open content approach, the telcos would still make good money on communication charges), but seeing how people like DoCoMo and au(KDDI) seem to be doing fine, isn’t it about time that all players involved in the mobile game wake up and think about what is best for the consumers? If it means a shift in power balance, so be it – although looking at the strategies of the mobile telcos elsewhere, there are companies who really need to get with the programme and stop thinking like legacy telcos and approach mobile differently.

It is clear that compared to the US and Europe, mobile users in Japan are clear winners – and mobile businesses and investors haven’t done badly either.

On Mobile Number Portability in Japan and Softbank October 31, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Internet, IT, Japan.
3 comments

MNP (mobile number portability) began in Japan last week, and the first week has been fairly interesting, with Softbank again being in the news.

MNP is a scheme whereby you can take your mobile phone number with you when you switch carriers, something that was not possible in Japan until last week. (Importantly, in this land where we have grown accustomed to email rather than SMS on mobile phones, you can’t take your old email address)

Anyway, Softbank launched a PR blitz to coincide with the MNP start, announcing “Zero Yen calls and SMS/MMS” (but with the small print saying that the calls/messaging have to be between Softbank users, and this applied only if you subscribed to a 27 month contract, with hefty charges for early cancellation, and MMS/mail is subject to an additional 300 yen/mth charge). The Fair Trade Commission has announced that it is launching an investigation into this advertising campaign, fearing that it might be misleading (hmm. I wonder who might have complained)

Then, on the weekend, as users rushed to take advantage of MNP, Softbank’s MNP management system went down. Softbank announced that this was due to the unexpectedly high number of users who had attempted to switch over.

Today, KDDI(au) and NTT DoCoMo announced figures for the subscriber gains/losses for the week since MNP kicked off. Softbank declined to publish figures.

KDDI is claiming a net gain of approx 80,000 users, 101,200 new users joining from other networks and 20,600 who left au to go elsewhere. DoCoMo says they lost 60,000 users net (within expected range), though they point out they had a net gain of 3,000 users between themselves and Softbank. That would mean that Softbank actually lost at least 20,000 users last week. Regardless of Masayoshi Son’s attempt to make the system failure fiasco look like a victim of Softbank’s success, it would appear that Softbank is loosing customers. The losses may have been bigger if their systems had not gone down.

The media is crawling all over this story, a news programme last night had one of its reporters visit the flagship Softbank store in Roppongi in the evening, to see how long it would take to make the switch to Softbank. The reporter waited for more than two hours before her number came up, only to be told that her request could not be processed immediately and the earliest she could get a new phone would be the next morning….. Couldn’t they have told people who were waiting that it was unlikely that they would be able to process them, before making them wait a couple of hours?

So, Round One of the MNP battle seems to show KDDI/au as the clear winner, with Softbank being the biggest loser with the negative publicity it has received.

In other news, KDDI launches its SNS service in collaboration with GREE, the #2 Japanese SNS site on Nov 16th…

Softbank Mobile pulls an old Softbank BB marketing trick October 18, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Japan.
3 comments

Softbank Mobile (the rebranded Vodafone Japan) has announced that it will be giving away repeater antennas for users who have problems with reception indoors. The antennas are worth about JPY20,000 and they also pay for the fitting (apparently the total cost is around JPY50,000).

It reminds me of the marketing ploy employed by Softbank Yahoo BB in (successfully) promoting their ADSL service by having scantily clad women (which I recall quickly became non-descript guys and gals in less provocative clothing) on street corners giving away ADSL routers (which you had to buy or lease with other providers). Of course, you had to sign up to the Yahoo BB ADSL service for like an eternity, probably, with a hefty cancellation charge for early termination.

I’m sure the same free but with a mandatory long term commitment model is in play here…. I wonder if the antenna is configured to be useless for non-Softbank Mobile networks which operate on similar frequencies….

Mobile Phone 3.5G battle lines are drawn August 23, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, IT, Japan, Mobile, technology.
3 comments

KDDI, the carrier behind the Japanese #2 mobile phone network AU, has announced its 3.5G strategy.

It announced its upgrade to its existing CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Rev.0 infrastructure, services using the new infrastructure start in December 2006 in major metropolitan areas. The new system is called CDMA2000 1x EV-DO Rev.A. That’s a bit of a mouthful, and nil points for creativity or originality.

The highlights are:

a) An increase in speed, notably in uplink speed. Downlink was already at a maximum of 2.4Mbps, and that is improved to 3.1Mbps, but the real story is that the uplink goes from 144k to 1.8Mbps.

b) QoS technology has been built in, allowing a superior service for quality critical applications. KDDI will be implementing a VoIP videophone service using this QoS functionality. It will no doubt have other uses, potential uses that spring to mind are differentiating their media content services such as VoD and music streaming services from non-affiliated services offering the same. This does potentially raise some network neutrality issues, but that whole debate seems rather subdued here in Japan anyway.

c) BCMCS, a multicast system (requires compatible handsets) which will allow more efficient distribution of mass distribution content over IP. This could also be a big deal for content distribution over mobile IP.
NTT DoCoMo has already announced its plans for HSDPA on its FOMA W-CDMA network which kicks in this autumn, for which it promotes a 3.6Mbps downlink speed (uplink is a paltry 384kbps)

Personally, I think KDDI’s strategy of increasing uplink makes a huge amount of sense. Mobile phones as ubiquitously portable devices to enable mobile blogging (mobile photo blogging, with integrated megapixel cameras of course), video blogging (the cameras do a decent enough job of pretending it is a videocamera), even using the phone to record podcasts….. All of these functionalities will be greatly enhanced by the leap in speed.

As far as the technological battle goes, chalk one up for KDDI.

Bad news for flying PC users August 18, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, IT, technology.
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It is being reported that Boeing has announced it is getting out of the in-flight internet connectivity business.

Boeing blames poor adoption rates, and apparently a buyer could not be found for the business.

Airbus has an investment in a rival system, OnAir, but it seemed that Boeing was the leader in providing in-fllight broadband, and $30 per flight didn’t seem unreasonable.

Some of us do value the ability to be connected during a long intercontinental flight, it makes time on the plane more productive.

Of course, airlines might be thinking about banning laptops all together, what with terrorism and batteries exploding and all that.

40% of Japanese Junior High School students exchange emails with strangers August 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Japan, technology.
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This is rather disturbing.

The Asahi Shimbun reports (in Japanese) on research conducted by Professor Hirotsugu Shimoda at the Faculty of Social Information, Gunma University in conjunciton with the Mobile Society Reseach Institute (which is sponsored by NTT DoCoMo) into the email (via mobile phone) habits of Japanese teenagers. Virtually all Japanese phones have the ability to send proper email, not just SMS messages, so can also be used to communicate beyond the mobile phone networks (there are applications which allow this for overseas phones as well, but proper email functionality is standard on Japanese phones).

One of the major findings is that 43% of Junior High School children replied that they “often” or “sometimes” exchange emails with “meru-tomo” (which is a contraction of “me-ru tomodachi” which literally means “mail friend” and was defined for the purpose of this study as a friend you have never met but exchange emails with).

The survey was conducted in a total of 38 senior and junior high schools spread over 8 prefectures, a total of 4600 students. 34% of junior high school students and 97% of senior high school students responded that they had a mobile phone.

Of the students who have mobile phones, 25% of Junior High School students answered that they communicate with such strangers “often”, compared to only 8% of Senior High School students. About a third of students who communicate with “meru-tomo” replied that they have subsequently met these people they encountered on-line.

When asked about the ages of their “meru-tomo”, junior high school students responded (multiple response) Junior High School students 95%, Senior High School students 40%, others <10%. Perhaps these students are lulled into a false sense of security as they think their on-line friends are of similar age. But of course, it is so easy to lie about your age on-line. Paedophiles don’t usually go around advertising that they are middle aged men looking for some minors to groom and take advantage of.

More that 30% of junior high school students and 40% of senior high school students responded that they access sites which are people congregate to find “meru-tomo” or to discuss games and the like. Many minors are making on-line “friends” at these sites.

Whilst the mobile internet is (or, perhaps more appropriately, will be) seen in the US (for example) as an extension/off-shoot of the PC based internet, for many Japanese, the mobile internet was their first exposure to the internet, and many people use their phone more for email and web browsing than to make phone calls. I am certainly one of them.

Mobile phones are personal devices, and therein is the problem that partents and guardians face when attempting to shield their children from inappropriate content. A home PC based environment can be equipped with filtering software and logging software (if the parents knew more about their computers than their kids – not a given, of course), mobile phone carriers really do need to start giving serious thought to developing network services which address these issues.

NTT DoCoMo has one “Kids’ Keitai” in its line up, which has a integrated panic alarm, GPS (to track the whereabouts of your child) things like parental locks to prevent kids changing settings (including switching the thing off).

Realistically though, this phone is aimed at smaller children, and high school students will not want to carry around a phone that looks like a children’s toy.

More importantly I think is to provide network services which allow parents to prevent their children from accessing sites which are potentially harmful, or provide an access log to allow parents to see what their child is doing with their phone. Of course, children should have a right to a certain amount of privacy, and ideally parents will have taught their children not to engage strangers, or even dabble in “enjyo-kosai” (“assisted relationships” which is a roundabout way of saying casual prostitution), but unfortunately many teenagers are still extremely vulnerable to peer pressure and grooming by deviant adults however hard parents try to keep their children on the straight and narrow (and even more unfortunately, there are plenty of parents who neglect even that basic parenting role), and technology probably can play a useful role in preventing children getting into trouble.

[added 8/21. Kent Newsome has a post wherein he worries about when his kids will get hold of a mobile phone (ie how early is too early – I see little kids, definitely no more than 7 or 8, with phones here in Tokyo, but then in most cities you don’t see 7 year olds commuting to school on the train without accompaniment), and also ponders how technology might at the same time help him keep track of his kids. The features that he wishes for are already available in Japan, per the post above. The question is when other overseas carriers will implement similar services…]