Toshiba tests European i-mode waters

Better known in Europe as a PC and consumer electronics maker, Toshiba will soon introduce the first European handsets that use Japan's mobile Internet technology

Slowly, cautiously and without undue haste, Toshiba is aiming to move into mobile phones in Europe. The company, better known over here for its PC and consumer electronics, has announced its first product, the TS21i, at CeBIT 2002. To see an image of the TS21i, click here. While Toshiba has been shipping mobile phones to the US and Asian markets for some time, this is its first tangle with a market dominated by European companies. Furthermore, it's using a Japanese technology -- i-mode -- to do it. The TS21i is initially only available through KPN Mobile in Germany and the Benelux countries. Charles Baxter, head of marketing for Toshiba's Mobile Communications division said the company aimed to move into the market through carefully built relationships with the phone networks and content providers. "What's brought us into this market is the change from voice-only to converged communications," said Baxter. He predicted that Toshiba's phones would be available in the UK at the end of this year. The TS21i is the first phone in Europe to use i-mode, an alternative to WAP for delivering content to mobiles, which has been in use in Japan for three years. As such it needs dedicated content at present, and that's why Toshiba isn't making the phone widely available, despite being compatible with many existing networks. It uses GPRS to access the i-mode data. The TS21i has been designed in Europe, even though it will be manufactured in Taiwan. "Design is very important. We see it as part of brand building," said Baxter. The phone features a backlit colour screen, an integrated antenna and polyphonic ring tones. There's certainly little difference in appearance between the TS21i and most phones from European manufacturers. Toshiba is aiming for the mass consumer market for phones, and not necessarily the tech-aware early adopters that often buy new market entries. Because of this, the company will also be cautious in offering other technologies and features in its phones. Bluetooth, for instance, wasn't ready for phone because "it needs to work first time out of the box," according to Baxter. However, we can expect to see MP3 players, Java capabilities and CMOS cameras built into phones over time -- but only when Toshiba thinks the market is ready.

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