i-mode is a mobile Internet service that provides subscribers with access to rich content, e-mail, games and other applications and services through their mobile phones.
Telstra group managing director, consumer and marketing, David Moffatt said i-mode has more than 165 content sites available across 13 categories, with this expected to increase to more than 200 sites over the year ahead.
Some of the i-mode sites include eBay, Citibank, CNN, Fox Sports, Whereis, Flight Centre and The Weather Channel.
"It's available anytime and anywhere on Telstra's fast data network, which covers 96 percent of the population. This means that if you're searching for a great restaurant, checking your bank balance with a participating bank or even wanting to see what's on at your local cinema, i-mode is the answer," Moffatt said.
He expects the i-mode sites to soon feature advanced payment capabilities using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) security technology as used on the Web, allowing content partners to sell high value goods and services. This will enable customers to make secure purchases directly from the content provider sites with their credit card.
Under the franchise agreement with DoCoMo, Telstra will exclusively be offering i-mode for 5 years under the condition it gets a minimum of 1 million customers on its third year.
Telstra is confident it will be keeping the exclusive rights to i-mode after NTT DoCoMo executive vice president and managing director of the products and services division Kei-ichi Enoki said the Japanese carrier did not plan to use another carrier in Australia.
"We choose one partner only in one market. We will never allow Vodafone [or any other carrier] in Australia to offer i-mode services," he said.
To access i-mode services, customers will be charged 2.2c per kilobyte for data they send, receive, browse or download. Telstra will also impose content subscription charge that customers agree to pay for content partners when accessing certain i-mode content sites.
Telstra announced that there will be an introductory offer of free usage for the first two months. Customers will get their first two months of i-mode free when they sign up to an eligible mobile plan. The offer includes free i-mode data access, picture messaging, e-mail and content subscription of up to AU$100 per month or up to 20 content sites --whichever occurs first.
Telstra also disclosed its plans to move into 3G territory in the coming years.
"Telstra is striving to deliver innovative mobile services and products that enhance the lives of our customers and i-mode demonstrates a fresh approach to marketing mobile data services. If we do this correctly with a strong emphasis on customer education, we will be ideally positioned for the introduction of 3G in 2005," Moffatt said.
He added that Telstra would be concentrate on "customer education" to make sure they attract customers who will be advocates of the i-mode service.
"Judging by the international i-mode experience, the rapid uptake in overseas markets, and our own customer research, we know customers want location-based services and the combination of the handset and the availability of relevant information is powerful," Moffatt said.
NEC and Panasonic i-mode handsets are available from selected Telstra shops around Australia. Additional handset models will be available in February when i-mode Telstra promotes the service more broadly to the consumer market.
i-mode was developed by NTT DoCoMo and first launched in Japan in February 1999. With the launch of i-mode in Australia, i-mode has now been rolled out in nine countries including France, Greece, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Germany and has more than 45 million subscribers worldwide.