NTT DoCoMo shows off latest 3G handset

CeBIT: DoCoMo keeps tightlipped but optimistic about future i-mode expansion in Europe as crowds gather to watch its newest video phone in action

Japanese mobile giant NTT DoCoMo drew large crowds at CeBIT on Tuesday afternoon with a demonstration of its latest 3G handset.

Although the world's largest ICT show doesn't officially kick off until Wednesday, journalists packed out a press conference at which DoCoMo demonstrated a 3G call; the company also suggested that its i-mode mobile service might soon be available in more European countries than at present.

The FOMA P2102V went on sale this week in Japan -- slightly later than forecast when its existance was first announced late last year. It is the first of DoCoMo's 3G handsets to support an SD memory card, and also the first to allow video clips to be sent to other subscribers by email.

DoCoMo said it was confident that these features -- as well as the phone's better battery life (call time of up to 130 minutes and dynamic stand-by time of up to 180 hours) -- would lead to a surge of orders.

"The launch of other new handsets in January led to 40,000 new users in one month, and we we expect that the launch of the P2102V will lead to a further rush of interest," a company spokesman said. He added that DoCoMo was planning several improvements to its range of 3G phones in 2003, including boosting the quality of the in-built digital cameras.

DoCoMo launched FOMA, its 3G service based on W-CDMA, in Japan in 2001, but for several years previously it had enjoyed great success with i-mode, a second-generation mobile service that allowed features like financial services, picture messaging and networked games.

Some European mobile operators have begun offering i-mode over GSM, and on Tuesday DoCoMo tried to play down speculation that it was unhappy that more hadn't yet followed suit.

"It is true that some newspapers reported that our chief executive had made comments (expressing dissatisfaction with the approach of some European operators towards i-mode) but NTT DoCoMo -- including our chief executive -- doesn't think the approach of European companies to i-mode is bad," said the DoCOMo spokesman. "It just reflects the fact that we want the situation in Europe to be even better," he explained, adding that i-mode has already reached Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, and is soon to be available in Spain.

DoCoMo refused to say which other countries might follow suit anytime soon.

"We can't mention other countries at the moment," said the DoCoMo spokesman, adding that the company was currently in discussions with several possible partners and would rather save its announcements until agreements were in place.

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