On This Day: SoftBank Corp.’s Forerunner Launches World’s First Global Standard 3G Service

J-PHONE’s initial 3G lineup (from left): the V-N701 by NEC, the V-NM701 (Nokia 6650) and the V-SA701 by SANYO Electric

J-PHONE’s initial 3G lineup (from left): the V-N701 by NEC, the V-NM701 (Nokia 6650) and the V-SA701 by SANYO Electric

20 years ago on December 20, 2002, J-PHONE Co., Ltd. —an antecedent of SoftBank Corp.’s (TOKYO: 9434) mobile communications business—launched the world’s first global standard 3G service. While it was not the first commercial 3G service, J-PHONE’s 3G was groundbreaking as it was the first to comply with 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) global standards.

This compatibility brought new possibilities to customers in Japan, such as global 3G handset models and international roaming. Previous communication standards, such as the widely used 2G Personal Digital Cellular (PDC) standard, were limited to Japan.

J-PHONE’s 3G service initially offered 3 handsets—the V-N701 (manufactured by NEC) and the V-NM701 (Nokia 6650), which were both 3G/GSM dual mode handsets, and the V-SA701, a 3G handset manufactured by SANYO Electric. Revolutionary for the time, the service offered data downlink speeds up to 384kbps and video calls on a completely new W-CDMA 3G network built from scratch.

J-PHONE later became Vodafone K.K., which was acquired by the current SoftBank Group Corp. in 2006. With SoftBank’s continued 3G network improvements, expanded handset lineups, and the Japan-exclusive launch of the iPhone 3G in 2008, SoftBank 3G subscribers grew substantially, surpassing the 30 million milestone in August 2012.

SoftBank later introduced faster and higher capacity communication networks. On February 24, 2012, SoftBank launched 4G services in the Japan market, and it began rolling out 5G services in March 2020. With the increased adoption of higher quality 4G and 5G mobile communication services, customers have transitioned away from 3G. To make better use of radio spectrum and further improve its 4G and 5G services, SoftBank announced it will discontinue its 3G services on January 31, 2024.

Over its lifespan of more than 20 years, 3G brought comfortable web browsing, enriched multimedia messaging and video calling to the mainstream. Thanks for the memories, 3G!

(Posted on December 20, 2022)
by SoftBank News Editors