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Japanese Carriers Seek Pole Position For Apple's iPhone

DoCoMo's relationship with Google may give it an edge over Softbank and KDDI, local reports suggest.

While Japan's cell phone service providers are bidding for rights to offer Apple's iPhone, NTT DoCoMo has obtained a leg up on its competitors by scoring new services from Apple's important partner, Google.

With negotiations under way between Apple and service providers DoCoMo and Softbank, the Nikkei news service reported from Tokyo Wednesday that Google will provide a cluster of its services for DoCoMo. Google, whose chairman Eric Schmidt is an Apple director, recently began providing important features for the iPhone in the United States.

Google was reported to be offering features including search, e-mail, calendar, and photo-sharing options over DoCoMo's i-Mode network.

Apple is faced with some unique challenges for its iPhone in Japan, because none of the country's mobile phone service providers utilize the GSM networks used by iPhone providers in the U.S. and Europe. DoCoMo, the largest Japanese cell phone provider, and Softbank, the third largest, utilize the WCDMA infrastructure standard, which can deliver faster and more robust services than EDGE-based GSM services. Apple's current iPhone carrier partners -- AT&T in the U.S., T-Mobile in Germany, Telefonica in the U.K., and Orange in France -- offer GSM connectivity.

According to media reports, KDDI, the second largest Japanese service provider, isn't in the running to provide the iPhone in Japan. KDDI uses the much-faster and more-robust CDMA2000 infrastructure, making it difficult to adopt to the iPhone's wireless specifications. In recent days KDDI and its partners announced that their Wireless Broadband Planning K.K. has received two 2.5-GHz licenses for deployment of WiMax technology in Japan. They plan to begin offering the service in 2009.

Apple, whose iPods and Macintosh computers have sold well in Japan, has indicated it will introduce the iPhone in the country in 2008.

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