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Competition grows fierce as Japan's SoftBank vies for new 900MHz spectrum

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Competition is growing fierce in Japan's wireless industry. Long-time iPhone exclusive carrier SoftBank desperately wants new 900MHz spectrum being allocated in 2012.


Things are heating up in Japan over the allocation next year of new 700MHz and 900MHz spectrum to build out mobile carriers' existing infrastructure. In recent years, all of the major providers have been hard at work developing fourth-generation LTE capacity, and additional spectrum would certainly help meet the demands of the new technology. The eventual decision stands to upend the state of Japanese wireless competition, and top executives are feeling the pressure.

Junichi Miyakawa, the executive vice president, director and CTO of SoftBank Mobile, was quoted in the Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday saying, "If we don't get new frequency next year, it will topple our company." Providers' current access to spectrum is among the major considerations for increased allocation, making things effectively a two-horse race between the established SoftBank and upstart eAccess.

SoftBank Mobile is the smallest of the nation's three major wireless providers, but has seen explosive growth, in no small part due to its exclusive (until last month) contract to carry Apple's iPhone devices. However, dissatisfaction with the provider's service is growing, with frequent reports of difficulty connecting to the network. Despite competitor KDDI offering the new iPhone 4S, SoftBank is still seen as the preferred carrier, and new 900MHz spectrum would stand to further strengthen its competitive position.

Among the Ministry of Affairs and Internal Communications' considerations for who to award the spectrum to are the ability to pay the expected 120 to 210 billion yen ($1.56 to $2.73 billion) in restructuring costs necessary to accommodate the new frequency. Additionally, the companies' plans to meet the high-speed LTE standard, and current levels of network congestion figure into the process as well.

The results of the allocation will be announced in February for the 900MHz band and the second half of 2012 for the 700MHz band.