Greek carrier licenses NTT DoCoMo's I-mode

Greece's Cosmote Mobile Telecommunications SA will begin offering the I-mode service from NTT DoCoMo Inc. in time for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the companies announced Friday.

Cosmote, in Athens, will carry the I-mode service over its 2.5G (enhanced second-generation) GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) network and 3G (third generation) UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) network in Greece and has also agreed to work with NTT DoCoMo to launch the service through Cosmote subsidiaries in Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, the companies said in a joint statement.

"It is too early to talk about our tariffs policy in regards to I-mode services or the subscriber numbers," said Cosmote spokeswomen Catherine Pantelidi in an e-mail response to questions.

According to Cosmote's Web site, the company had almost 4 million subscribers at the end of June, giving it a 37 percent market share.

Representatives from NTT DoCoMo, in Tokyo, could not be reached for comment.

NTT DoCoMo has already made I-mode available in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain through agreements with such European companies as E-Plus Mobilfunk GmbH and Co. KG, KPN Mobile NV and Bouygues Telecom SA.

A service in Italy with Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA is expected to begin by the end of this year.

"The agreement with Cosmote certainly proves a point that NTT DoCoMo has a stake in growing a wider European footprint," said Paolo Pescatore, a senior wireless mobile communication analyst at IDC. (IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service.)

"If you look at the strategy as a whole, NTT DoCoMo has been successful in that they've been able to bring a number of operators on board," Pescatore said.

The I-mode agreements are appealing to the smaller telecommunications companies in Europe because I-mode presents a viable way for competing with larger players like Vodafone Group PLC with its Live! service and T-Mobile International AG, Pescatore said.

I-mode, a mobile phone communications platform that offers users access to thousands of Internet sites and specialized information and services, has about 40 million subscribers in Japan, according to figures from NTT DoCoMo, with an additional 1 million subscribers outside of Japan, including other Asian countries.

By comparison, Vodafone reported late last month that it has over 1 million Vodafone live! customers in Germany alone and more than 710,000 in the U.K. and over 430,000 in Italy.

"NTT DoCoMo has been expanding the I-mode service in Europe quite quickly in a short spam of time. It has done well in competing with Vodafone, which has so much marketing power," Pescatore said.

According to Pescatore, I-mode also suffers against Vodafone Live! because it only offers service based on monthly subscriptions and does not offer a pay-as-you-go option like Vodafone. "Getting users to switch from pay-as-you-go is an inhibiting factor to signing people up to a service, and not just for I-mode, that is a problem all of the providers face," he said.

I-mode has yet to hit the U.K. market, in part because of shareholder disputes between NTT DoCoMo and Hutchison 3G UK Ltd., in which NTT DoCoMo has a stake. The company said last month that it was negotiating with other operators to provide I-mode in the U.K.

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