Japan points to wireless health's future?

By Brian Dolan
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The largest mobile operator by subscribers, NTT DoCoMo, might bring its brand to the U.S. and offer DoCoMo wireless service over T-Mobile USA's or AT&T's network, according to reports in Japan Today and Japan Times. The reports claim that the carrier is interested in launching its advanced mobile Internet services for the U.S. market.

The news broke just a few days after NTT DoCoMo announced its ongoing research with the University of Tokyo Hospital into wireless healthcare. The poorly translated press release indicated that the two entities have entered into a four year agreement to investigate wireless opportunities for health informatics.

At last year's Wireless Japan Expo, Fujitsu and NTT DoCoMo unveiled new "RakuRaku" phones, which means "easy easy," phones that are intended for use by aging users who are most concerned with keeping connected to their health records and healthcare practitioners. The phone's camera reportedly could determine the user's heart rate just by scanning minute movements of the user's finger when held up to it. The phones also included built-in pedometers and a personal health diary. At least one of the phones is also able to synch up to medical devices made by Omron, including weight scales, to input other health-related information.

NTT DoCoMo already has phone service available for Japanese expatriates currently living in the U.S. Expanding its agreements with U.S. carriers to create advanced wireless Internet services, like wireless healthcare ones, may not be too far of a stretch.

DoCoMo's plans aside -- there is an opportunity coming up to learn about Japan's wireless healthcare market and how U.S. companies can get involved: The upcoming CTIA Wireless IT & E event in San Diego next month recently added a one hour seminar hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization:

"Already known as the most advanced wireless market in the world, Japan is rapidly evolving as the leader in wireless healthcare. The integration of the mobile phone with healthcare services and medical devices is already a market reality. Capitalizing on the ubiquitous mobile communications society, the Japanese Government, national health insurance, leading medical universities, device companies, and operators are all actively involved in the burgeoning mobile healthcare scene," the event description reads.

Japan may be a glimpse into wireless healthcare's future, but what if rumors of NTT DoCoMo's U.S. plans are true? Will the carrier catalyze wireless healthcare innovation here, too? Time will tell.