German carrier E-Plus Mobilfunk will begin its I-mode wireless Internet service on March 16. This will be the first I-mode service to be operated outside Japan, where I-mode was developed by NTT DoCoMo.
E-Plus, a subsidiary of Dutch KPN Mobile, will start taking service subscriptions and orders for I-mode handsets from customers on March 8, with the service to start the following week, according to a KPN Mobile statement. The N21i by NEC Corp., which holds the largest share in Japan's handset market, will be the only I-mode-compatible handset available for the launch of the service in Germany.
The content services available at the beginning will include news, weather forecast, sports, entertainment and financial information from 60 content providers, according to an E-Plus statement. Users will be able to send and receive e-mail messages of up to 1,000 characters per message, E-Plus said.
Handsets will be sold at 249 Euros (around £150), a monthly subscription fee for I-mode will cost 3 Euros, and the price of services provided by content makers will cost up to 2 Euros per month, the statement said. The packet transmission fee will be 0.01 Euros per KB and for email transmission, an additional 0.19 Euros will be charged per email, the statement said.
Following the German launch, KPN Mobile, which is currently conducting its own I-mode trails, plans to roll out the service in the Netherlands in mid-April. Further details will be unveiled at the beginning of April, KPN Mobile said. KPN Mobile's Belgian subsidiary KPN Orange will start its I-mode service in Belgium in June.
The same NEC handsets will be used in Belgium and the Netherlands as for the first launch in Germany, NEC said in a statement.
Launching I-mode in Europe is one of the overseas expansion strategies of NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile telecommunication carrier, which originally started I-mode in 1999 and currently has more than 30 million subscribers in Japan.
On March 1, NTT DoCoMo was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the London Stock Exchange (LSE), hoping to enhance its global liquidity, the global profile of the company and broaden its financing options, so that it can accelerate the expansion of I-mode and its 3G (third-generation) mobile service abroad, the company said.
One of the company's next initiatives will be the launch of I-mode and its 3G service in the US, said Keiji Tachikawa, president and chief executive officer of NTT DoCoMo in a company statement. NTT DoCoMo is planning to roll out these services in the U.S. through AT&T Wireless Services Inc., in which the company has a 16 percent equity investment.
"We also intend to build on our alliances with other leading U.S.-based companies, such as Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner and Hewlett-Packard," Tachikawa said.