Japan’s largest mobile operator takes a dip in Blue Ocean

12 Sep 2008

The largest mobile operator in Japan has paid US$10m for an 11.5pc stake in an Irish technology company that built the world’s first GSM maritime network capable of handling calls and data across deep oceans.

The investment by NTT DoCoMo values Blue Ocean Wireless (BOW) at US$87m.

NTT DoCoMo has more than 50 million mobile customers – over half of Japan’s total cellular market – and has a number of wholly owned businesses in Europe and the US.

Established by private equity firm Claret Capital, BOW’s technology for the first time provides seafarers with GSM connectivity in deep ocean waters where no networks exist. Users at sea can make calls, receive texts and will eventually be able to surf the internet using basic handsets.

The technology can also be used with RFID technology, which will have important implications for the merchant shipping sector.

“The acquisition of an 11.5pc shareholding in Blue Ocean Wireless represents a compelling opportunity for us to invest in a business that immediately serves a vast, international market that is surprisingly undersubscribed,” said Toshinari Kunieda, managing director of NTT DoCoMo’s Global Business Division.

“This investment demonstrates our belief that BOW is uniquely positioned to serve a rapidly growing market sector,” Kunieda said.

“Moreover we recognise the value of Blue Ocean Wireless’ effective use of bandwidth, the efficiency of its systems and its privacy-protection measures that provide it with a distinct competitive advantage over conventional satellite communications services,” Kunieda added.

The addition of NTT DoCoMo broadens BOW’s shareholder base, which includes Smart Communications and Bank of Scotland (Ireland).

Blue Ocean said the additional investment will strengthen its ability to capture a significant number of new subscribers from the world’s 1.25 million seafarers.

“Our partnership with NTT, DoCoMo will enhance our presence in the significant Japanese shipping market and also represents a strong endorsement of the global maritime GSM platform Blue Ocean is building,” Blue Ocean’s chief executive, Robert Johnson said.

Domhnal Slatter, chairman of Blue Ocean, said the company has identified the Philippines and Japan as its two critical overseas markets for growth.

“Together with the investment of Smart Communications during 2007, this represents a natural fit for our business and reflects our success in building the world’s first GSM global merchant maritime network.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years