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Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006

Softbank undercuts rivals with new fee plan

Staff writer

In a surprise announcement, Softbank Mobile Corp. said Monday it will offer a flat monthly rate of 2,880 yen that covers calls and e-mail to other Softbank subscribers without additional charges.

The package, which becomes available Thursday, will be offered to subscribers who apply by Jan. 15.

The announcement is a last-ditch effort to lure subscribers ahead of Tuesday's debut of mobile number portability, which will allow users to change carriers without changing their phone numbers.

In a news conference Monday, Softbank President Masayoshi Son said that the new rate is the cheapest offered in Japan.

"We have to show that our entry into the industry will lead to changes," Son said. "We wanted to stimulate the market, promote competition and revitalize the industry."

Under the new service, dubbed the Gold Plan, customers will basically be able to call and e-mail other Softbank users for a monthly fee of 2,880 yen.

During the busy communications hours between 9 p.m. and midnight, users will be offered free calls for up to 200 minutes a month. Calls over that limit will be charged.

Users will also be charged extra if they make calls or send e-mail to subscribers of other carriers or fixed-line phones.

Commenting on the potential financial burden it will suffer from the discount service, Son said it will not affect Softbank's ability to repay its 1.16 trillion yen debt to 17 creditors.

"DoCoMo is making 1 trillion yen profit a year and (KDDI's) au service is raking in 500 billion yen in pretax profit," he said. "They are profiting too much."

Data transmission fees will be free for the first two months.

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The Japan Times

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