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Japan to ask mobile carriers to clarify lease fees

TOKYO, May 19 (Reuters) - Japan’s telecommunications ministry said on Monday it would urge mobile carriers to disclose their leasing fees for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), in a bid to increase the number of new entrants to the market and boost competition.

Hefty initial costs of building base stations have deterred many would-be entrants from Japan's cellphone market, dominated by NTT DoCoMo Inc 9437.T, second-biggest KDDI Corp 9433.T, and No. 3 Softbank Corp 9984.T, which bought Vodafone's VOD.L local unit in 2006.

By asking these and other carriers -- including eAccess Ltd's 9427.T eMobile, Willcom Inc and KDDI-affiliated UQ Communications Inc -- to reveal prices and other details of leasing arrangements, the ministry hopes the move will make it easier to negotiate leasing terms and motivate those who want to join the market as virtual operators.

Virtual operators do not own networks or spectrums but they rent access from other operators. Walt Disney Co DIS.N, for example, has launched services in Japan by using Softbank's network.

“Mobile users would be able to see more services offered, and operators would be able to diversify their businesses,” said Shogo Matsuda, deputy director at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

“We hope this will boost competition and re-energise the market,” he said.

Nikko Citigroup analyst Hiroshi Yamashina said the move might encourage Internet service providers to launch mobile data services, which offer high-speed Internet access for mobile devices.

“The market for mobile phones is saturated, but we can say that the mobile data market has been unexploited,” he said.

But Yamashina said it would unlikely spur foreign telecom operators to enter Japan, where the number of subscribers has reached 107 million, or about 85 percent of the country’s population.

He added that becoming a virtual operator is more popular in regions such as Europe where users often call or tramsmit data internationally.

Shares in NTT DoCoMo fell 1.9 percent to 158,000 yen as of 0346 GMT, while KDDI slid 1.6 percent and Softbank was down 0.5 percent. eAccess, which is one of the newcomers to the market and strong in data services, dropped 2.6 percent.

The information and communication subindex .ICOMS.T was down 0.8 percent. (Reporting by Sachi Izumi; Editing by Chris Gallagher)