[IWAR] JAPAN Internet business

From: Michael Wilson (MWILSON/0005514706at_private)
Date: Sat Dec 27 1997 - 09:42:45 PST

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             Japan and other nations try to match U.S. on Internet business
          Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net
          Copyright ) 1997 The Christian Science Monitor
       TOKYO (December 27, 1997 11:18 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) -- Reiko
       Chiba led the glamorous life of a Japanese TV idol but by age 20, she
       gave it all up to do something more meaningful. "What I was looking for
       was something to do for the rest of my life," Chiba says. What she found
       was the Internet.
       Now she is one of Japan's youngest - and one of its few female -
       entrepreneurs online.
       Her company, Cherry Babe, provides Internet and intranet consulting in
       Tokyo and also designs and hosts company Web sites. It is a small but
       significant sign of how nations other than the United States are poised
       to close the Internet gap between them and the country that created it.
       Almost anywhere one looks, foreign entrepreneurs are getting online to
       do business.
       Although the U.S. dominates the world of electronic commerce, its lead
       will almost certainly shrink as Internet competition heats up. Nowhere
       is this more evident than in Asia.
       Survey of executives
       When International Data Corporation (IDC) surveyed 11,000
       information-technology executives worldwide, it found 52 percent of the
       executives in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) thought an
       Internet strategy was important or very important. Japanese executives
       were on par with Americans at 30 percent, while Western Europeans
       trailed at 16 percent.
       Less-developed nations are particularly interested in getting online.
       Compared with building a factory or a global network of distributors,
       developing an Internet presence is a cheap way to gain access to the
       world's consumers.
       "We call it the leapfrog effect," says Michael Sullivan-Trainor,
       director of Internet research at IDC's headquarters in Framingham, Mass.
       "While the US is definitely in the lead in Internet and intranet
       development ... a lot of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region show
       much more aggressiveness in Internet deployment."
       Executives at Japan's computer companies make no bones about where
       they're headed. "Internet business in Japan will definitely catch up
       with what's going on in America," says Tadayasu Sugita, head of personal
       systems business group at Fujitsu Ltd.
       Rise in number of users
       The change will come slowly. Between 1997 and 2001, according to the
       IDC, the number of users of the Internet's World Wide Web will increase
       sixfold in the US to 180 million, fourfold in Western Europe to 43
       million, and nearly six times in the Asia-Pacific region (including
       Japan) to 49 million.
       Japan has special challenges to overcome. For one thing, just as its
       personal-computer (PC) boom has faded this year, so has its Internet
       enthusiasm. "There was an Internet boom in the past, but it has been
       very difficult to maintain," says Kousuke Aoki, director of the
       Multimedia Research Institute in Tokyo.
       Another challenge is telephone charges. The prices of calls are seven to
       eight times more than those typically found in the US.
       Then there's the Japanese language. With so much of the Internet based
       on English, those who can't read it have access to far less information.
       Still, a surprising number of Japanese brave these challenges to get
       online. One of the largest Internet providers in Japan, Big Globe, had
       2.4 million users at the end of September and is adding 30,000 new users
       a month. Most users of the service, which is part of computer giant NEC,
       are buyers of NEC computers. Nearly 8 million Japanese are estimated to
       be using either an online service or receiving direct Internet access.
       Profits not coming yet
       Many of them are going into business. Some 2,000 companies in Japan
       alone provide access to the Internet. "There are millions of those
       Internet entrepreneurs," says Chiba of Cherry Babe. But "it's not very
       profitable. They have to have some kind of safety net."
       Millions of digital pioneers on this side of the Pacific haven't made
       any profits either. Not wanting to limit herself to a single field,
       Chiba is developing game software and also does promotion and event
       planning for Japanese music and film personalities. And she's also
       interested in getting more women involved in the Internet.
       "The PC ... is something that men do, and I want to break that
       stereotype," she says.
       By LAURENT BELSIE, The Christian Science Monitor

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