DoCoMo's i-mode user base hits 24.6m

Japan's mobile Internet service - tipped to appear in Europe shortly - puts WAP in the shade

Japan's largest mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo has increased its i-mode subscriber base to 24.6 million as of 18 June, up by about 600,000 subscribers from the end of last month.

With slightly more than a week to go before the end of the month, the company's executive director Takeshi Natsuno said he expects the number of subscribers for iMode to hit 25 million by the end of June.

Launched in February 1999, i-mode is a wireless Internet service that allows mobile users to access various text and interactive services via a mobile phone.

"The increasing subscriber base for i-mode shows that wireless Internet access is a 'must have' application for mobile users," Natsuno said. "It [wireless Internet] is not an additional application to voice anymore. It's as important as voice application."

Speaking at CommunicAsia 2001, Natsuno said he was setting a "conservative" target of 30 million i-mode subscribers by March next year. Without revealing specifics, he said DoCoMo is "continuing to invest money to make its (i-mode) platform better".

Meanwhile, he said NTT DoCoMo "is on track" to launch its commercial third generation (3G) service in October. The company shelved plans for a commercial service in May, citing software glitches and a need for testing as reasons for the delay.

However, he noted that despite the delay in launching its 3G service nationwide, the company is still targeting 150,000 subscribers to its service by the end of March next year. It currently has 4,000 subscribers since its Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) technology-based 3G mobile communications service was launched last month.

The service, called Freedom of Mobile multimedia Access (FOMA), is an introductory phase, which will end on 30 September, and commercial services are expected to start on 1 October.

Natsuno added that DoCoMo hopes to capture 90 percent of population coverage in Japan within two years, and 98 percent by 2004 with its 3G service.

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