MmO2 to offer DoCoMo's I-mode in UK

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

NTT DoCoMo Inc. is negotiating an agreement in which it will help mmO2 PLC launch an I-mode-based mobile Internet service in 2005 in the U.K., said an industry source familiar with the discussions between the two companies.

The companies are working on a deal, which has yet to be finalized, in which DoCoMo will provide mmO2 with data distribution, content development services and other know-how. MmO2 will introduce a version of the I-mode service on its GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) handsets next year, and later, on 3G (third-generation) handsets, according to the source, who declined to be named.

In an official statement released Thursday, DoCoMo said it was studying the possibility of offering an I-mode service in the U.K. and was conducting various studies about how to advance the service in the U.K., but that no agreement had been reached. The statement did not mention mmO2.

However, one analyst said the deal had been completed.

"It's a done deal," said Kirk Boodry, telecom analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (Japan) Ltd. in Tokyo.

The agreement won't provide DoCoMo with much revenue, but it will extend the company's brand image in Europe, Boodry said. For mmO2, the move will give the carrier an easy route to provide mobile Internet services, taking advantage of DoCoMo's extensive experience with the I-mode technology and software, he said.

"Over the last two or three years, the mobile Internet has been seen as a big opportunity for European carriers," Boodry said.

I-mode offers an easy-to-use package of content, e-mail, games and other applications and services designed for packet-based network technologies, with a format that is nearly identical to regular Web pages.

The move plugs a gap in DoCoMo's efforts to promote the service throughout Europe.

After investing a 20 percent stake in Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. (H3G) in 2000, DoCoMo had hoped that H3G UK would introduce I-mode on its 3G high-speed network. But after H3G UK failed to roll out the service, DoCoMo sold the stake back to H3G's Hong Kong parent company, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., in May and has been looking for another U.K. partner ever since.

Meanwhile, U.K.-based carriers have been rolling out rival mobile Internet services.

I-mode was launched in 1999 and is popular in Japan, where DoCoMo has over 42 million [m] I-mode subscribers. As of July, the service had more than 3 million subscribers outside Japan, according to DoCoMo spokesman Takumi Suzuki.

A deal with mmO2 would be the eleventh I-mode partnership between DoCoMo and a carrier outside of Japan.

This year, DoCoMo has announced a string of deals to promote I-mode use by carriers outside of Japan. Earlier this month, the company said it was partnering with Cellcom Israel Ltd. to launch I-mode in Israel. That service will start in 2005, according to Suzuki.

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