SoftBank, Japan's third-largest carrier and primary provider of the iPhone, is to flip the public switch on its 4G network this Friday after testing since November. The first product to use it will be the ULTRA WiFi 4G SoftBank 101SI, a mobile Wi-Fi router from Seiko Instruments capable of 76Mbps download speeds, though SoftBank 4G will eventually support devices capable of 110Mbps downloads. SoftBank's network doesn't run on LTE per se, but a new system called AXGP (Advanced eXtended Global Platform) that has its roots in Willcom's PHS network, and is cross-compatible with the TD-LTE system that's rolling out across China (and the US, thanks to Clearwire).

The service will only be available in major cities at launch, reverting to 3G elsewhere, but the carrier is aiming for 99 percent coverage by the end of this year. The new entry means that 4G in Japan is now even more fractured and nebulous a concept than in North America, with AXGP competing against already-common 42Mbps HSPA+ networks, WiMAX services from KDDI, and Xi, the LTE service from NTT Docomo.