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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 18:37 GMT
The i-mode comes to Europe
Mobile phone and money graphic
Will Europe like the i-mode?
NTT DoCoMo's best-selling i-mode phone is soon to be marketed across much of Europe.

Italy's Telecom Italia Mobile and Dutch KPN have formed an alliance with the Japanese firm to sell the mobile internet service in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Belgium.

The trio are aiming to roll out the European i-mode to the public by the end of the year, with details of the alliance to be finalised by the end of April.

The i-mode phone has won 17 million subscribers in the two years since its launch in Japan, but it is unclear whether Europeans will display similar enthusiasm.

Sketchy details

Each of the firms has pledged at least 30m euros to develop the "mobile internet concept", which will eventually be marketed under a pan-European brand.

But other details of the alliance were sketchy, and analysts were unsure of the significance of the deal until more details came to light.

KPN Mobile and DoCoMo are also creating a new mobile data company, representing a combined investment of 140m euros.

The i-mode has brought welcome profits for DoCoMo in Japan because of its premium rate charges.

And the threesome will lure European customers with interactive games and e-mail services to encourage them to stay connected for longer.

Disillusioned

Wireless Application Protocol (Wap) phones have failed to live up to expectations for many Europeans, since access to the internet is slow and limited.

But the combination of upgraded networks and the more sophisticated i-mode model could win over Europe's disillusioned mobile internet users.

But competition will be fierce among Wap providers to entice the relatively small number of users.

In Europe, i-mode will compete against Vodaphone and Vivendi's Vizzavi web portal as well as the Orange World Internet Service.

News of the deal helped give DoCoMo's profile a boost ahead of its one trillion yen ($8.4bn) share issue.

And its shares had jumped 11% by Thursday's close on the Tokyo stock market.

The cash raised will finance DoCoMo's other worldwide investments, including a 16% stake in AT&T Wireless of the United States.

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See also:

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DoCoMo buys into the US
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DoCoMo readies for 5bn offering
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