Docomo partners with Line, finds a creative way to relieve network strain

Docomo Line
Docomo CEO Kaoru Kato, photo by

Back in January of 2012, Japanese carrier NTT Docomo (TYO:9437) attributed a network disruption to free VoIP applications, with popular chat app Line being the first one that it cited. Line, which launched back in mid-2011, was just picking up steam at the time with about 15 million downloads reported at that point, and 5.5 million of those in Japan.

Since then of course, the application’s download count is about ten times as high – in Japan, where it has more than 45 million; and abroad, where there are over than 150 million. And while Docomo has itself had time to solidify its network infrastructure to accommodate the kind of data load that apps like Line demand, it can’t be an easy task. So it was interesting to see today that Docomo has decided to partner with Line Corporation, as announced in an event earlier today.

There are a few aspects to the companies’ partnership, but the most interesting collaboration will be an original Line application for Android that will include a call button in app that users can use to make voice calls. The goal here, as Docomo itself notes, is to reduce the load on their network. This will be put in place in September, and will allow users to call other Docomo users for free. Ostensibly, the regular Line voice call button (for VoIP calls) will still be in place.

This is a pretty fascinating maneuver on Docomo’s part, as telcos the world over adjust to a mobile industry shifting from voice to data [1].

The other aspect of the Docomo-Line agreement will bring another original Line application to Docomo’s Raku-Raku smartphones, which target users who aren’t accustomed to smartphones, especially the country’s large senior population. This app will implement preventative measures to limit transactions amounts that may have resulted from accidental purchases.

A million reading manga on mobile

In addition to striking this partnership with Japan’s largest carrier, this marks a pretty good day for Line. The company also announced that its new manga application has reached a million downloads, this just a little over a month after the service initially launched in Japan.

As for Docomo, the telco isn’t doing too shabby either with more than 12 million LTE subscribers as of April 20th. Oh, and the company announced some new phones today too. But of course, still no iPhone.

(Download chart as image)

For more information on the growth of Line, please check out our interactive Line Timeline which chronicles its growth from its launch back in 2011 up until the present day.

  1. As one example, check out this ZDnet piece from yesterday saying that such messaging apps would cost Indian telcos more than a billion dollars this year. Of course that’s a far different mobile landscape than Japan, but it will be interesting to see if any other telecoms try what Docomo is doing. (Perhaps some already have? Let us know in the comments if you know of any)  ↩