TOKYO, Aug. 17 (Kyodo) -- While the growing popularity of smartphones has energized the nation's information technology industry, the very success of the phone business has created a problem of ballooning traffic.
As they process substantial volumes of data, the spread of the new breed of advanced handsets is threatening to overwhelm the capacity of currently used third-generation cellphone service networks within several years.
A smartphone, which offer a wide range of applications besides regular phone and texting functions, handles 10 to 20 times more data volume than a conventional cellphone, according to KDDI Corp., a major mobile phone carrier.
This is already troubling the services in morning rush hours and at high-traffic areas such as railway stations as the smartphones' massive data traffic strains the networks and slows connection speed.
In late July, Masayoshi Son, president of Softbank Mobile Corp., said, "The problems about smartphones' slow communication and connection difficulty have materialized" in their data communication earlier at his company than at other carriers.
Softbank became a pioneer in Japan's smartphone service when it began selling Apple Inc.'s iPhone in 2008.
To address the problem of its limited service capacity, major U.S. mobile phone carrier Verizon Wireless scrapped its fixed pricing plan and now charges by volume.
Following Verizon's move, Softbank is reviewing its flat rates. Son said, "We have to control (the overall communications volume)," indicating that changing how to charge smartphone subscribers is an option to reduce network traffic.
NTT Docomo Inc. is trying to avert a 3G phone network overload by diverting some of its subscribers to its "Xi" high-speed communication service launched last December.
NTT Docomo intends to continue charging fixed rates for its 3G phone service while introducing a different plan for Xi. "If subscribers' data usage reaches a certain level, prices may go up or the communications speed may be lowered," says Docomo President Ryuji Yamada.
Phone carriers say they will likely raise prices only for heavy users such as those who are on the line continuously for hours if they decide to revise their fixed pricing plans.
Since many smartphone users take fixed charges for granted, telecommunication firms that give up their current plans risk losing their customers. The cutthroat competition also makes a price hike a tough choice to take.
Nevertheless, the smartphone business will likely grow at a sizzling pace.
Fiscal 2011 shipments of smartphones are expected to more than double from a year earlier to 21.31 million handsets in Japan, accounting for more than half of total mobile phones for the first time, according to market research firm Yano Research Institute Ltd.