The personal handy-phone system service that began in Tokyo, Sapporo, and other major cities in July has now been expanded to cover urban areas throughout the country. The PHS gained instant popularity after its introduction owing to its lower cost compared to cellular phones, and the expansion of the service network is expected to make PHS phones even more competitive.
The PHS was developed from the same technology used in cordless phones; signals were digitalized, and the handsets were built to be used outside the home. The PHS signal is weaker than that of cellular phones, however, and the phones cannot be used in moving vehicles.
An advantage of the PHS, though, is that relay stations are relatively easy and inexpensive to install, and the lower costs have led to phone rates that are just a fifth of the rates charged for cellular phones.
Two telecommunication groups launched the PHS service in 42 cities in the Kanto region and Hokkaido in July, and by the end of August the number of PHS phone owners reached 110,000. In October the area covered by the service was expanded to other parts of the country, and PHS phones can now be used in approximately 120 cities around Japan.
Recently, a third company entered the PHS market in the Kanto and Kansai regions, and it plans to go nationwide sometime in 1996.
The three firms are pushing ahead with plans to build more relay stations to further broaden the areas covered by the service. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications predicts that the number of PHS units will grow to 6 million by the year 2000.
Even with its great popularity, the PHS system faces a number of problems. First, production of the handsets have lagged behind demand due to a shortage of memory chips, which are also sought after by computer makers. The shortage could persist for some time.
A second hitch is that PHS phones cannot be used to make international calls. New software needs to be developed before overseas calls become possible--a process that is expected to take close to two years.
Furthermore, the various discounts usually offered for international and long-distance calls are not yet available for the PHS, which currently offers only a limited discount for nighttime calls. Due to the newness of the PHS system, the introduction of discounts for heavy users and for off- peak hours is expected to be delayed until usage patterns can be fully analyzed.
(The above article, edited by Japan Echo Inc., is based on domestic Japanese news sources. It is offered for reference purposes and does not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.)