O2 launched the mobile Internet service i-mode in the UK on Monday, just under a year after signing up for the service with Japan's NTT DoCoMo.
The service, which allows users to access a range of Internet sites and services that have been tailored to work with mobile phones, will be available from 1 October.
I-mode is already used by more than 50 million people in 22 countries around the world, according to O2. The UK version will include various news sites, such as The Times Online, Channel 4 and Sky News, along with general entertainment sites such as The National Lottery and Sony BMG, and financial sites such as Norwich Union and Egg. O2 claimed that around 100 sites would be available on the launch date, but only named 22 sites in its press statement.
O2 will initially offer the service to customers on four handsets from NEC and Samsung, at prices from £79 for an NEC 343i on pre-pay (free for pay monthly customers) to £279 on a Samsung Z320i (£79.99 for pay monthly customers).
The cost of using i-mode will be the same for customers on pre-pay and pay monthly tariffs. Customers will be charged £3 for every megabyte they download. This rate looks expensive but, according to O2, a megabyte is "equal to approximately 100 pages, which is the same rate that O2 charges for other consumer data services."
As an introductory offer, O2 is providing free content subscriptions for up to 10 sites for the rest of 2005, along with free mobile browsing for the first three months on contract and the first month on pre-pay. It is also offering free i-mode email and picture messaging until April.
On the security side, O2 said that users "can be safe in the knowledge that i-mode sites not only come directly from respected companies that they already know but are based on secure, open Internet standards."
"If people are going to really use mobile Internet services, they need to be far easier, faster and populated with a far richer range of content from brands they already know and trust." said Matthew Key, chief executive of O2 UK. "The i-mode experience in other countries shows that this new depth and breadth of content, combined with the speed and simplicity of use, leads to far higher customer usage."
O2 will launch i-mode services in Ireland next week and will launch a similar service in Germany in the first half of 2006.