The iPhone will make its official debut in Japan later this year on SoftBank's mobile network, the company announced Wednesday.
SoftBank is the third largest carrier in Japan, behind NTT DoCoMo and KDDI. But
DoCoMo and KDDI have has built networks based on the CDMA family of standards (used by Sprint and Verizon in the U.S.), while SoftBank's network is based on the GSM family of standards currently used by the iPhone. Apple is expected to unveil a next-generation iPhone next week, but few expect the company to have a CDMA-version ready at this point in the iPhone's history. (Updated 11:30 a.m. PDT: I screwed this part up, DoCoMo's network is indeed based on the GSM family of technologies.)
SoftBank made the announcement in one of the shortest press releases I've ever seen. The entire text? "SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp. today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple to bring the iPhone to Japan later this year." As such, we have no idea whether that means the 3G version will come directly to Japanese customers, but that would make sense given nature of the Japanese market.
Apple has now cut deals to bring the iPhone to dozens of countries worldwide, but Japan's cell phone-crazy market will be an interesting test for the company. Multimedia phones, mobile Internet browsing, and fast network connections are old hat to Japanese mobile phone buyers.
The last big whale out there for Apple is now China, which has a thriving underground iPhone market already. Talks between Apple and China Mobile, China's largest carrier, have been reported as off-and-on for several months but there's no deal in place.