I-mode success drives NTT DoCoMo towards early 3G

Mobile colossus NTT DoCoMo reckons 26 million users can't be wrong, as it prepares to launch high-speed mobile Internet services in most Japanese cities
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

While Europe's mobile industry is suffering mounting scepticism over the future success of third-generation mobile Internet services, NTT DoCoMo is pushing forwards with its 3G plans.

Hiroyuki Ohtsuka, deputy managing director of DoCoMo Europe, said on Tuesday that his company was on track to launch commercial 3G services well ahead of any European companies. "We're planning to launch 3G networks in most major Japanese cities by early 2002," Ohtsuka said. "The aim is to achieve six million users, and 97 percent coverage, within three years."

Ohtsuka guaranteed that the world's first commercial 3G network will go live in Tokyo in December this year, after a full-scale trial beginning in October. This trial was originally supposed to take place in May, but technical hitches forced NTT DoCoMo to delay by three months.

NTT DoCoMo already operates the highly successful i-mode mobile service in Japan. With over 26 million subscribers, DoCoMo is the largest Internet service provider in the country -- bigger than any fixed-line ISP. "The key to our success is the quality of our content. I-mode's success will lead us to a smooth 3G launch," Ohtsuka told delegates at the Mobile Commerce World Europe show, held in London.

Compared to the triumph of I-mode, Europe's WAP services -- which give mobile users access to some Internet content and email services via their handset -- have flopped. After initial shortages last year, many handsets now include a WAP browser, but it seems that relatively few people use the technology to surf from their mobile.

Chris Hall, managing director of Manx Telecom, who is running the mmO2 (formerly BT Wireless) 3G trial on the Isle of Man admitted that the European mobile industry must learn from the success of i-mode. Hall said that in the face of considerable skepticism in the media about 3G, it was important that the mobile industry worked together. "I hope and expect to work with NTT DoCoMo. However, as a rival company I'm sure they'll be keeping some thing proprietary. Mmo2 and Manx Telecom will be doing the same."

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