Number of 3G Base Stations in Japan

Here is some very interesting information concerning the number of 3G base stations NTT DoCoMo in Japan. According to this report from UnwiredInsight, the company currently has 62.800 outdoor HSPA base stations and in addition 29.200 indoor installations.

These numbers are incredibly high, especially when compared for example to the number of base stations Vodafone says it has in Germany (and provides very good coverage with!). According to reports, Vodafone has around 20.000 GSM base stations in Germany and 13.000 HSPA base stations (I assume most are co-located with GSM). Now Germany and Japan are almost equal in size so the number of base stations should also in the same area. But they are clearly not. So I thought that perhaps what they meant was number of sectors. But no, even NTT DoCoMo themselves have released similar numbers and also says it's "base stations".

Well then, looks like they are not beaten anytime soon in this number game.

7 thoughts on “Number of 3G Base Stations in Japan”

  1. Martin,

    While Japan and Germany are of relative size, Japan has a larger population, so their population density is higher – by 44%:

    Add to that the assumption that Japanese use their cell phones a lot more (or at least used to before the iPhone), and you get to a conclusion that they simply need more towers.
    Is 3 times the amount is something I am not sure about, but having considerably more makes sense.


  2. Tsahi beat me to it :-). I was also going to make the comment that the additional basestations that NTT DoDoMo have put in are for capacity (both raw population and minutes of usage) not coverage.

  3. @Tsahi/Andrew Population density cannot explain a difference in base station count of nearly 5X. IIRC, DoCoMo has a 2×20 MHz frequency allocation, which means there should be four carriers per base station to soak up the offered traffic. My guess is that they’re still using some primitive, single-carrier base stations which ups the count a lot. A better indicator of how over-built DoCoMo is would be the number of cell sites — not just the number of base stations.

    The performance of the scheduler at the base station also can have a huge impact on how much traffic can be handled by the radio interface. Since DoCoMo uses mostly “off-brand” base stations, I’m not sure that we can assume that their schedulers are best-in-class. So the traffic handling capability per base station is suspect.

    And then there’s the fact that DoCoMo isn’t exactly known for using capital efficiently, which is one reason for the extremely high airtime rates in Japan.

  4. Could one reason in addition to population size be the geographical features of the countries? Germany and Japan both have mountains, but Germany only in the southe, otherwise germany is pretty flat.

    This leads to Japan having population concentrated in coastal areas with either steep hills and/or high rise buildings. Whereas in Germany you have more “towns” with lower building heights and in general flatter ground. I’d assume this makes it easier to provide full nationwide coverage with a smaller number of base stations/cell sites as a single Base station can cover a wider area in Germany than it likely can in Japan.

    If you add the capital efficiency that David is suggesting wouldn’t the combination go a ways to cover the difference?

  5. Hi Martin, thanks for interesting blog.

    I have been working with this kind of issues in my job, so cannot help commenting…

    I agree, the # of 3G BS seems quite high in Japan. In fact, it is just at about global average, but considering Japan one could expect they make it more economically. Today clearly the dominant parameter effecting the count of BS is population. So I support the comment by Tsahi. Japan has about 2x population of Germany.

    Another, not impossible factor may be “PTT-mood” of Docomo, due to the dominant market position. There has not been so much pressure to save BS.

    One factor, which I´m not so informed, is that due to very expensive land property in Japan the site acquisition can have been sub-optimal there leading to sub-optimal network design.

    One thing could be, that the data usage due to iMode was quite high in early phase (before 3G) which lead to buildout of relatively high number of Japanese 2G PDC BS.

  6. Hi Martin, I assume that these figures are the total of BS (2G+3G). thus, the site number should be around(60000+30000)/2=45000 sites.

  7. Hi Christophe,

    interesting thought but then the number must fall very sharply now as DoCoMo supposedly switched of their 2G network in March this year. See here for details:

    One of the readers commented that since 2003, DoCoMo sold UEs were not dual mode anymore. So since the graphs dont say 3G base stations but just base stations there is of course the possibility that your are right.


Comments are closed.