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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
I-mode phone in line for upgrade
Japanese man on mobile phone
The i-mode will extend its reach to 25 million Japanese users
Japan's NTT DoCoMo is to invest 50bn yen ($400m) to overhaul its i-mode network, according to local press reports.

I-mode is the most successful mobile internet phone in the world, winning 22.4 million subscribers in the two years since its launch in Japan.

The investment will boost the i-mode's capacity to reach new users.

And the firm has also won government approval to launch an i-mode service to landline telephones, a service dubbed the L-mode.

The L-mode eliminates the need for an internet service provider or a personal computer to browse the internet, but users need a telephone with a digital display.

The company intends to launch the service in June, and expects 1.5 million households to sign up in the first year.

Global competition

The investment plans for i-mode follow a three-year business model issued by NTT earlier this week.

The report focussed on the need to cut costs and boost profitability because of the threat of increased global competition.

A major restructuring of regional carriers was included in the business plan.

But the government is reported to be critical of the lack of sufficient steps to encourage competition.

NTT, a former state monopoly, has a grip on more than 90% of the lines connecting homes and businesses in Japan.

It is expected to open its i-mode services to other internet service providers by March 2003 and is preparing to roll-out next generation mobile phone licences over the next few months.

European entry

NTT DoCoMo's best-selling i-mode phone is soon to be marketed across much of Europe, and will compete with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phones.

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.

But it is unclear whether Europeans will display as much enthusiasm for the phones as the Japanese have done.

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.



Mobile web worries
See also:

25 Oct 00 | Business
30 Nov 00 | Business
12 Jan 01 | Business
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