Kawada: The move to 3G is a chance for us to [catch up and win]. Japanese makers are ahead in developing 3G cell phones because the service will start in Japan first, about a year before Europe. Then we'll move onto Asia and the U.S. We want to become one of the top makers of 3G phones and capture the global market.
TIME: Toshiba just formed an alliance with Siemens to develop 3G cell phones. Will there be more alliances like this?
Kawada: Japanese makers are ahead in developing handsets [for 3G] and, among them, Matsushita is the leading company. We'd like to keep that advantage. There is talk of alliances, and they will happen because Japanese manufactures are attractive to European companies.
TIME: What are the technical hurdles in developing 3G handsets?
Kawada: The amount of software needed is enormous, and we have to eliminate the bugs and make things perfect. We can use software from outside the company, but we need to develop the core software such as the operating system and an interface protocol. The key to all this is semiconductors, extremely large-scale integrated circuits that can process large volumes of information on a small chip.
TIME: How would you describe your relationship with carrier NTT DoCoMo? Some critics say that Japanese cell-phone manufacturers ask "how high" when DoCoMo tells them to jump?
Kawada: That's a misunderstanding. NTT DoCoMo tells the manufacturers what kind of services they want to provide, and give us the protocols and specifications. The rest is up to us. It's true that we can't sell the handsets as freely as European makers do, but that doesn't mean that our freedom is restricted.
TIME: How did you start your career as a mobile phone engineer?
Kawada: I started designing car phones [the service started in 1979 in Japan]. I'm passionate about this field, and I consider myself one of the most informed experts. I knew a time would come when every individual would have a handset. But I never imagined that it would happen so quickly, before I retired. I also knew that Internet access through a mobile phone would spread. Again I never imagined that it would happen so quickly, in a year-and-a-half.
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