Japan’s second-largest mobile phone maker, KDDI, has announced it plans to launch a mobile phone service in the Unites States using the Sprint Nextel CDMA network, making the company yet another of the MVNOs—Mobile Virtual Network Operators—offering rebranded services built on the Sprint network. Other notable Sprint MVNO’s include the youth-oriented Helio, Boost Mobile, Virgin, Disney, and telecom operator Qwest.
According to a KDDI spokesperson, the company’s initial market in the United States will be mainly Japanese, catering to ex-pats and Japanese citizens who either life or work in the United States. However, mobile aficionados’ hopes are hight that the KDDI offering will bring sophisticated Japanese mobile devices to the U.S. market. Traditionally, Japan and (particularly) South Korea have rolled out mobile technologies well ahead of the United States; many mobile features which are ubiquitous in those countries never make it to the U.S. market at all.
KDDI says it plans to begin offering service in the U.S. bu the middle of April, initially offering Sanyo handsets rebranded under the KDDI Mobile brand.
For now, KDDI’s move is probably best viewed not as a blatant attempt to enter the U.S. market, but rather to expand its existing revenue base by offering KDDI services to customers already acquired in the Japanese market. The Japanese mobile market is almost completely saturated, making operators look outside the country for ways to differentiate themselves from other Japanese carriers. However, if the service proves to be viable, KDDI mmight find itself in a position to compete with the likes of Helio, which is built on the idea of bringing high-tech phones from the South Korean market to the United States. However, Helio has already established partnerships with music, media, and social networking services, which KDDI would have to work hard to match in the U.S. market.