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Media & Entertainment

Docomo offers free Amazon Prime as Japan's 5G race heats up

Top wireless carrier dangles streaming content to lure new users

Docomo users stream 4K video during a trial run on a Tobu Railway train in Tokyo. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

TOKYO -- Top Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo will offer customers a free year of Amazon Prime as telecom and tech companies form alliances ahead of next spring's rollout of ultrafast 5G wireless service.

Starting Dec. 1, Docomo will cover the roughly $45 annual cost of Amazon Prime membership for subscribers to new rate plans launched in June, giving them access to the service's catalog of thousands of movies and dramas. The tie-up was announced Tuesday.

"We anticipate an inflow [of customers] from other companies," Docomo President Kazuhiro Yoshizawa told a news conference here.

The vastly increased data speeds and capacity of 5G networks compared with 4G are expected to make entertainment a bigger battleground for wireless carriers.

Docomo already gives subscribers access to Disney streaming videos, as well as sports content from DAZN, a U.K.-based service. Rival KDDI launched in September a new unlimited-data plan that includes a subscription to Netflix.

SoftBank Corp., Japan's third-largest carrier by subscribers, has a partnership with U.S. chip designer Nvidia and South Korea's LG group in 5G cloud gaming.

Japan's video-streaming market is expected to grow roughly 30% between 2018 and 2023 to 295 billion yen ($2.7 billion), according to the Digital Content Association of Japan.

Docomo's Amazon Prime deal will be available to nearly 10 million users. If just 10% take the offer, the carrier will need to pay roughly 5 billion yen. But "as a price for retaining and bringing in subscribers, it's cheap," a Docomo executive said.

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