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Japan launches world's first 3G services

This is the first time a super-fast 3G service has launched
This is the first time a super-fast 3G service has launched  

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3G trial is on

Video phones delayed

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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japanese consumers got their first chance to try out DoCoMo's super-fast 3G mobile phones on Wednesday.

The limited test launch in the Tokyo area marks the first time the much-touted next-generation wireless has been used by the public anywhere in the world.

But analysts say those expecting revolutionary new changes will be disappointed.

3G trial is on

Keiji Tachikawa is one of the chosen few -- one of the 4,500 Japanese who will be trying out the world's first third generation phones over the next few months.

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"I wanted to try it out since I heard it is very fast," said Tachikawa.

NTT DoCoMo's new 3G mobile phones, being released under the Foma brand, run at speeds from 64 to 384 kilobytes per second.

That means they can download data up to 40 times faster than most of their Internet friendly predecessors.

The new handsets also allow users to log onto the Net and take phone calls at the same time.

Video phones delayed

But the much-touted video-enabled phones were not released. Their delay is one of a number of setbacks that have hit the company recently.

A month ago, DoCoMo said it would need until October to work out all the bugs in time for a full-scale commercial 3G launch.

Though the 3G launch delay is a credibility blow to one of the world's leading mobile companies, the mobile operator is still riding high on the enormous popularity of its I-mode mobile Internet data service.

Analysts call the setbacks minor.

"For example Europe has been juggling WAP for two years, and still does not have any meaningful penetration," said Makio Inui, an analyst at Nikko Salomon Smith Barney in Tokyo.

"This happens all the time."

Analysts say limits on capacity will also prevent DoCoMo's 3G service from providing consumers with real-time video for the forseeable future.

While in general, DoCoMo's 3G trialists seemed pleased with their new handsets, the upgraded functions strained battery life as the first models hit Tokyo's streets.

In any case, do not expect 3G phones like this to catch up in Europe or the U.S. anytime soon.

DoCoMo says even in Japan, it expects to sign up only 150,000 3G customers by March 2002.

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0227 HKT, 10/29

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