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Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 12 News List

DoCoMo looks to take its i-mode service to Britain


NTT DoCoMo is negotiating with several companies to take its i-mode mobile phone Internet service to Britain, DoCoMo's chief said on Monday.

If DoCoMo, the Japanese cellphone leader, succeeds in gaining an Internet foothold in Britain, it would face intense competition, particularly from the Vodafone Group.

Keiji Tachikawa, who heads DoCoMo, also told a news conference at the ITU Telecom World exhibition here that i-mode, a phone technology that allows high-speed data transfers, had more than 1 million subscribers in Europe and that the company was "now on track for growth."

The advanced cellphone network, called 3, that was started in Britain and Italy this year by the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, confirmed that it was among those in talks with DoCoMo, which has a 20 percent stake in 3.

I-mode, which was first offered in Tokyo in 1999, has more than 40 million subscribers in Japan, where the number of cellphone users far exceeds those on regular fixed lines. DoCoMo has licensed the brand and services to local telephone operators in several Continental countries, starting in Germany last year. The service is also available in the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Spain and will soon be available in Italy.

But i-mode faces serious competition from established European carriers like Vodafone and Orange, which have developed their own packages of information and entertainment services that allow wireless subscribers to get data from the Internet on many-featured phones.

An i-mode service in Britain would compete with Vodafone Live, the mobile package delivered by Vodafone, Europe's largest carrier. Vodafone Live has more than 2 million subscribers, twice as many as i-mode.

"We're having constant negotiations about i-mode," said Ed Brewster, a spokesman for Hutchison 3G UK, which offers the 3 service. "We have said they are a preferred operating system for us both in Hong Kong and the UK."

But Tachikawa indicated that DoCoMo was not committed to 3 for i-mode, either in Britain or in Hong Kong.

"There are a number of operators who are willing to provide i-mode service in the UK, and we are in negotiations with such candidates," he said.

Tachikawa provided no other details about his British plans. He denied a recent report that DoCoMo threatened to leave the partnership with Hutchison in Britain if 3 did not also offer i-mode services.

A Vodafone spokeswoman pointed out that the company already competes with the i-mode brand in several markets in Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.

"Obviously, we'll be monitoring it closely," said Janine Young, Vodafone's group communications manager. "It would be more competition."

Nearly one-quarter of Vodafone Live subscribers are in Britain.

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