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Mobile internet usage in Japan - statistics and facts

Mobile internet usage has become increasingly important for people in Japan. Smartphones were widely adopted by Japanese consumers during the 2010s, and the already high number of smartphone users is expected to continue growing in the coming years. Today, smartphones are the most common device used to access the internet, followed by PCs and tablets. While the share of people who use smartphones to access the internet is particularly high among those in their twenties and thirties, tablet use tends to be more common among children than among other age groups. Mobile devices are not only used for looking up information on the internet, but also for accessing social media and the highly popular chat app LINE, as well as for entertainment purposes, which include streaming services and mobile gaming, among others. Apple iOS is the leading mobile operating system when it comes to web traffic, reflecting the strong position of the iPhone in the Japanese market.

The mobile telecommunication market

Japan has long been considered a leader in mobile technology. In 1999, the i-Mode was launched by NTT Docomo as the first commercial mobile browser-based web service, enabling users to access desktop HTML websites and to use services such as e-mail and online banking. Japan was also the first country to introduce handsets with cameras. Although Japanese devices early on possessed many features that were ahead of their time, the profitability of the domestic market meant that companies had few incentives to venture overseas. Instead, mobile telecommunication businesses geared their technological developments toward the peculiarities of the domestic market, a process that has been described as Galápagos syndrome in Japan. For many years, the mobile telecommunication market has been dominated by the three large mobile network operators (MNOs) NTT Docomo, KDDI Corporation, and SoftBank Corp., with NTT Docomo being the leading mobile carrier in terms of subscriber shares. In 2020, Rakuten Mobile, which had previously operated as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), became the fourth proper MNO.

Rollout of 5G in 2020

The year 2020 marked the beginning of the 5G rollout in Japan, with all four mobile carriers starting to deploy their own 5G networks. While NTT Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank launched their services in March, Rakuten Mobile followed in September. According to news reports, the four carriers are expected to spend more than 14 billion U.S. dollars in network-related capital expenses over the course of five years, which includes large investments in infrastructure, such as base stations and fiber optics. The fifth-generation technology standard for mobile networks is supposed to greatly increase performances regarding speed, capacity, and latency. In this way, the new network standard is expected to help in overcoming some of the problems faced by Japan’s telecommunication infrastructure. Among other issues, problems include usage constraints in highly populated areas, such as a low speed during peak times. While the unit sales of 5G-capable mobile phone devices are expected to reach more than 27 million by the mid-2020s, the number of 5G subscriptions for handset devices is expected to increase to more than 106 million by 2027.

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