Samsung, NTT DoCoMo chip group abandon planned LTE chip joint venture

The firms had agreed to launch the venture by March of this year but could not agree on a final deal

NTT DoCoMo said Monday a planned joint venture with Samsung Electronics, Fujitsu, NEC and other Japanese companies to design and sell chips for high-speed mobile networks based on the LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard has been abandoned.

The companies said late last year that they had agreed to form the venture, with details to be worked out by March. DoCoMo went as far as putting up ¥450 million (US$5.4 million) to set up a new subsidiary, Communication Platform Planning, to prepare for the launch, but Japan's largest mobile operator said Monday the firms could not work out a deal.

"The various stakeholders each had their own ideas, and an agreement could not be reached by the March deadline," said DoCoMo spokeswoman Naoko Minobe, declining to provide any further details.

Japan's semiconductor makers are struggling to compete in other areas. In February Elpida, the world's third-largest DRAM maker filed for bankruptcy in a Tokyo court, and media reports have said Renesas Electronics, Fujitsu, and Panasonic are in talks to merge their struggling system LSI (large scale integration) businesses.

Minobe said such developments were not a factor in the abandonment of the joint venture.

LTE is becoming a default worldwide standard for the next generation of mobile networks, and Asian firms are keen to avoid domination of chipset implementations by foreign companies, and the costly fees they charge. The specification, claiming peak download rates of 100Mbps, has been adopted by carriers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

In Japan, DoCoMo currently operates an LTE service under the brand name "Xi," pronounced "Crossy," which it launched at the end of 2010, and the country's two other major carriers, KDDI and Softbank, have said they will launch in the future. A smaller provider, eMobile, rolled out its own service last month.

Japan's two other major carriers, KDDI and Softbank, have also said they will adopt the LTE standard in the future. Unlike DoCoMo, both companies currently offer Apple's iPhone, which media reports have said will be equipped to work on LTE networks in future versions. In the U.S., Verizon and AT&T run high-speed LTE networks.

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