Well following my post last week about Vodaphone and 3G in Europe there seems to be more news today that backs-up the argument questioning the economic viability of the thing.
Firtsly shares of NTT DoCoMo, the world’s No. 2 mobile-phone and the leading 3G operator, just had their biggest one-day drop ever after the company said operating profit may drop 25 percent and sales may fall (by 2.5%) this year on more competition in Japan.
Meantime Investment bank Nomura are predicting that Hutchison Whampoa could walk away from its loss-making 3G mobile business by end 2006. Their analyst reckons HW could rack-up operating losses of about $2.7 billion this year simply on the 3G operation alone.
Normura failed to see how Hutchison 3G (H3G) can achieve an economic return on capital and value the company at a negative HK$63 billion. “Our Hutchison Whampoa estimates include an assumption that the company walks away from its 3G ventures by the end of the full year of 2006,” James said.
The survival of 3 Italia was also called into question despite signing up the highest number of 3G subscribers among Hutchison’s 3G business. The company announced in March that it had 453,000 customers in Italy.
Obviously the DoCoMo situation is not all down to 3G, and in some ways it could be declared a success: DoCoMo had 3.05 million 3G users at the end of March 2004 compared to 330,000 a year earlier. However finding a realistic pricing model to extract revenue seems to be a problem, and they have now announced that they will be offering unlimited mobile internet on their 3G FOMA service for a monthly flat fee of 3,900 yen. At current rates that is about a manageable 29 euros a month. Which would be fine for a lot of users, but then you have to subtract the downside: all those ADSL customers who may decide to switch over. As I said, great idea, but the economics are far from clear.
“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”
J Danforth Quayle