Is i-mode coming to a phone near you?

As analysts criticise WAP, an Irish firm has produced the first English-language program that can create i-mode pages

WAP could face the prospect of competition within Europe with the release last Thursday of free software that promises to create i-mode sites within minutes.

The i-mode editor, created by Ireland-based software developer wapprofit.com, converts HTML pages into cHTML which can be viewed by an i-mode phone. I-mode was the invention of Japanese NTT DoCoMo, and has more than 13.3 million subscribers in Japan who use their mobiles to browse the Web, trade shares and download music files.

Wapprofit.com chief operating officer Peter Bellow believes there is a big demand for i-mode content in English. "Wapprofit has been creating i-mode applications in English for the last four months and we felt there was a glaring need for this tool," he said, adding that Japan contains 81 percent of the global wireless internet population.

A basic version of i-mode editor is free, while an enhanced version that also supports WAP and HDML will be available November costing $49 (£35).

NTT DoCoMo recently announced that it is to open a London office, and research facilities in Germany, fuelling speculation that it plans to roll out i-mode across Europe. The company is committed to building a 3G mobile network in Europe, in partnership with Hutchison Whampoa and KPN Mobile.

In July, NTT DoCoMo promised to help European firms deliver Internet content to mobile phones using i-mode. It claimed that converting HTML content for mobiles is easier with i-mode than with WAP, but insisted that i-mode and WAP were complementary.

Only two European mobile phones support i-mode, the Sony CMD-Z5 and the Benefone Q. Wapprofit.com expects more to appear in 2001.

Analysts believe that WAP has become a dirty word, with only two percent of Western Europe using a Net-enabled phone. A report from Forrester Research released September blamed network operators for WAP's anaemic adoption.

Forrester claims that NTT DoCoMo's open approach made it easy for content providers to create useful sites, while France Telecom and BT have build walled gardens that are "poorly supported and tightly restricted".

Which will win, WAP or i-mode? Would you use an Internet phone? To have your say online click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

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