Today is MNP-day in Japan. MNP stands for Mobile Number Portability (Japanese Wikipedia, English Wikipedia) and basically means that you can switch mobile phone provider without changing your phone number. Before starting to work in the telecom industry, I would have thought that it did not take any great technical effort to do so, but I have come to understand that it is no walk in the park.
Here in Japan, the cell phone industry is very interesting at the moment. As you know, Softbank bought out Vodafone’s Japanese operations earlier this year, and started using the brand “Softbank” from October 1. Since Softbank took over, there has been a big change in the branding and advertising of the company. While Vodafone heavily focused on brand image and globalization, Softbank is clearly more local and to the point in their advertising. Vodafone used famous stars trying to push an image of Vodafone onto the public, whereas Softbank are using more traditional Japanese advertisements emphasizing the products or pricing plans.
The day of MNP has been known for a while now, and there has been massive speculation over what will happen when this possibility is introduced. Given the past poor performance of Vodafone, and recent good performance by KDDI’s au, it has been the common opinion that surely Vodafone will lose a lot of customers to the more hip and technically advanced au after October 24. The third (and largest) player, NTT Docomo has been generally believed to stay rather flat, maybe losing a few customers to au as well.
However, with the change from Vodafone to Softbank, all bets are now off again. Softbank have been very active in the media lately, and as I said above, has vastly changed its image and distanced itself from Vodafone which probably have had a positive effect on its brand. No longer are the same clunky phones used in Europe also marketed in Japan, but new, slim, modern phones unique for Japan are starting to show up. Further, the held a big press event last night on the eve of the MNP announcing 予想外割引 (‘Yosogai Waribiki’ = Unexpected Discount) which is a super-discounted plan open to people signing up for a Softbank account from today until January 15, 2007. Basically you pay 2,880 Yen per month (about $25) and for that you get 200 free minutes per month as well as basically free messaging and 2 months free web-browsing and some other things. With this extremely cheap plan as well as a generally low pricing structure compared with its competitors, I would not be surprised if Softbank actually gains users through the MNP instead of losing them.
My predicitions (will check the stats at the end of the year to see if I was correct):
au : Will gain some users (mainly from Docomo)
Docomo : Will lose some users (mainly to Softbank)
Softbank : Will gain some users (mainly from Docomo)
It seems I might be right… Softbank stops accepting new applications due to overflow of orders