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Softbank announces 110 Mbps network, may handle iPhones

Japan's No. 3 carrier said the network will cover major cities in two years, and work with the growing TD-LTE Asian standard.

Softbank, Japan's third-largest mobile carrier and exclusive purveyor of the Apple iPhone in the country, said Thursday it would launch in November a new data network allowing downloads of up to 110 Mbps (megabits per second), faster than many wired connections provide today.

The new "Softbank 4G" network will initially be available via portable modems that create small wireless networks for computers and other devices, with the company aiming to have the country's main populations centers covered by April 2013. It will be compatible with a growing Chinese standard that media reports say Apple will support, meaning that future iPhones on Softbank's network could have access to the blazing download speeds.

"As cloud computing comes into practice, one thing we cannot fail to achieve is high speeds for mobile Internet, " said Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, speaking to reporters and industry representatives at an event in central Tokyo. "This network will have among the fastest speeds available, even globally."

Softbank will begin by offering a soap-bar-sized modem that can provide downloads of up to 76 Mbps and provide a wireless connection for up to 10 devices, which will go on sale in February. The device will switch to Softbank's existing data networks when not in range of the new system.

The network, which offers uploads at up to 15 Mbps, will be based on a format called AXGP, an advanced version of an older Japanese standard, Personal Handy-phone System (PHS). Softbank said it is "highly compatible" with TD-LTE, a Chinese standard also know as as LTE TDD, which is growing in popularity throughout Asia. Media reports have said Apple is committed to supporting the standard in future devices.

The carrier also announced a broad range of new smartphones, many with sparkly buttons and features such as decorative emails and image touch-up features that are aimed at attracting customers, especially women, that are still using traditional mobile phones. These include new handsets from Japanese makers such as Sharp, Panasonic and Kyocera, as well as Dell and Huawei, which will go on sale this year or in early 2012.

"Smartphones have already ceased to be an item just for men who like new technologies," said Son, who at one point posed on stage with several young, phone-wielding female models.

Softbank operates the smallest of Japan's three main mobile carriers in terms of contracts, but has been outpacing its rivals in adding new users under Son, who secured exclusive rights to Apple's iPhone and iPad on the network and has implemented aggressive pricing plans and advertising.

The carrier's monopoly on Apple products may end next year when No. 2 carrier KDDI also begins carrying the iPhone, according to numerous local media reports. Asked repeatedly about the upcoming release of the new iPhone and the end of Softbank's Apple monopoly, the normally loquacious Son repeatedly declined to comment. 


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