BARCELONAStandards may be the enemy to innovation, says the man known as the father of Japan’s wildly successful i-mode service.

Takeshi Natsuno
Takeshi Natsuno

Takeshi Natsuno is a former senior vice president of NTT DoCoMo, where he developed the business strategy for multimedia-related services, including i-mode strategic alliances. He left NTT in June of last year and is now a professor at Keio University.

Essentially, Japanese operators years ago told their vendors to deliver to their specifications rather than wait for standards to be ratified. “Japan did not wait for standards,” he says.

Because of i-mode, almost one-third of NTT’s revenue is from data, and that data is not SMS, which he describes as more of an extension of the voice age. Another thing that Japan did differently in its data services was keep the mobile Internet open; there are no walled gardens.

Seventy percent of mobile phones in Japan have a mobile wallet, and it doesn’t require a major change-out of handsets. In emerging areas of the world where people are more likely to have a mobile phone than a bank account, the mobile wallet is primed for uptake, according to Natsuno.

In advanced markets, where the demand for data is well understood, the environment is ripe for Internet players like Google to aggressively develop data services at their own risk. But the scope and enforcement of standards at the application layer should be carefully set up, he says, because too much standardization can diminish the incentive for innovation.

Incidentally, Natsuno is an iPhone fan. Years ago, while at NTT, he was among those asking for vendors to come up with something simple and intuitive like the touch interface, but they weren’t interested. Today, of course, it’s hard to find a handset vendor that doesn’t have a touch-screen product.

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