【Column】"Is really Japanese mobile market saturated??"
From timeline's perspectives, the framework of product/industry lifecycle consists of Product introduction/Business foundation, Growth, Maturity, and Decline by stages. This framework often is used as a basis of strategic planning, however, it also has ambiguity to define which stages his or her business is belong to because of no clear standard of each cycle.
Actually at this product/industry lifecycle, innovative new products/services can expand of term of cycle, otherwise can create another new industry cycle with innovative product.
Coming back to the original title, Is really Japanese mobile market saturated?
Due to the JEITA's PR (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industry Association), on March 2008, Japanese domestic shipment of mobile phone is minus about 94.8% against March at last year. In terms of shipment in 2007 as a whole year is plus about 5.16 million units against last year. （Mobile shippiments on May 2008 are minus against that of last year, however, mobile shippiments of whole year 2007 is plus. JEITA, ITMedia、May 14th, 2008）
Next let's see mobile penetration by countries in reference with ITU. In attached slide of mobile market lifecycle, I assume mobile penetration (mobile subscribers per 100 inhabitants) at introduction cycle as up to 20, and that at growth cycle as up to 70. As opposed to Japanese market positioning at maturity, some Asian market like that of China stays in the middle of growth, and that of Hong Kong and Italy can be positionized at decline.
In spite of these analyses, the revised view like the comments of president at Emobile exist. ("Japanese mobile market yet to be saturated" in Japanese, IT Media, Feb 26, 2008) At this comment, in comparison with other high mobile penetration countries like Hong Kong, Italy, and Luxembourg, he sees Japanese mobile market as still growing market although Japanese market grows slower than it used to be.
So a concrete question can be raised like "Can Japanese mobile penetration grow around up to that of Italy and Hong Kong?" For example, in a case of Italy it is reported that the number of mobile penetration was exaggerated because the number of mobile is not the real number of subscribed mobile but the number of SIM cards. （ITU reveals Europe's highest mobile phone penetration, Telecomworldwide Oct 17, 2005) Since there is trend that subscriber use one SIM card with different mobile phones in Italy, this numbers does not always lead to more than one mobile per a inhabitant in Italy. In a case of regional hub and small countries like Hong Kong and Luxembourg, it can be estimated that a inhabitant may have mobile phone more than one because of high level of people going in and out. As a usage of mobile phone, I imagine that they may use by occasion like international traveling phone and domestic phone.
Given these implications to future Japanese market, I could say that it can be unrealistic for Japanese mobile penetration to increase as same penetration level as that of Hong Kong and Luxembourg unless Japan become Asian regional hub and the number of people going in and out increase drastically. Well, I also expect that new and innovative product like iPhone come out and drive growth by changing mobile market definition into internet device. Other new creative ways of mobile usage like domestic and international mobile, or voice mobile and Internet mobile may arise.
Whether mobile market is at growth or maturity truly depends on future industry insight and perspective. I would conclude that as a industry getting saturated however, still has space to grow with innovation as usual.