Mobile phone companies are focusing on providing wireless communication services through their mobile networks for such machines as vending machines and gas meters.
Although the consumer market for mobile phones has become saturated, there is significant room for growth in “inter-machine communication” services and the area is expected to yield new business opportunities.
NTT Docomo Inc. is providing mobile connections for about 150,000 vending machines owned by Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. The machines are wirelessly connected to a data center, and maintenance staff are notified through e-mails to their mobile phones in the event that products sell out or machines malfunction.
NTT Docomo will also provide mobile networks for a trial involving the shared use of power-assist bicycles, to be conducted by Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward from October. Riders will be able to pick up and drop off the bicycles at more than 10 parking areas, and the ward can use location data transmitted from terminals attached to the bicycles to distribute them efficiently.
Ymobile Corp., a unit of SoftBank Corp., will provide PHS networks for gas meters that Tokyo Gas Co. will set up for about 50,000 households. The households’ gas use will be monitored by an operations center, and people who forget to turn off their gas will receive alerts.
According to the Fuji Chimera Research Institute, Inc., the market for intermachine communications is expected to reach ¥276.2 billion by fiscal 2017, or 2.3 times its level in fiscal 2012.
Communication fees are quite low at several hundred yen per month. However, “more than 50 billion machines will be connected to the Internet in 2020, five times the current number,” according to SoftBank President Masayoshi Son, so intermachine communications are expected to yield stable revenue.
Mobile phone companies are also working to upgrade their communication capabilities. KDDI Corp., for example, will apply Long Term Evolution communication, which can quickly send large volumes of data, to intermachine transmissions from next May.
However, it will be difficult for mobile phone companies to create systems that fulfill companies’ various communication needs on their own. SoftBank therefore formed a development tie-up in April with General Electric Co. of the United States.
Such cooperation with different industries will likely be key to expanding mobile phone companies’ operations.