NTT DoCoMo is set to launch its hit I-mode wireless Internet service in Europe as early as September this year. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with KPN Mobile NV and Telecom Italia Mobile SpA that paves the way for the launch.
The service will initially be available through KPN Mobile's network in the Netherlands, Telecom Italia Mobile's network in Italy and the networks of two KPN-affiliated carriers, KPN Orange Belgium NV/SA in Belgium and E-Plus GmbH in Germany, the partners said in a statement.
The rollout of wireless Internet services is not planned to stop there. The partners said they will look at the possibilities of expanding the service area to Telecom Italia Mobile-affiliated operators in Europe once the initial service is launched. Telecom Italia Mobile has affiliations with Bouygues Telecom SA in France, Amena Mobiles SA in Spain, Mobilkom Austria AG in Austria, Stet Hellas Telecommunications SA in Greece and Is TIM in Turkey.
Launched in February 1999, I-mode has been incredibly successful in Japan. Latest figures from the operator show 17.8 million subscribers to the service, which offers access to e-mail and Internet services via cell phones. This is in marked contrast to the wireless Internet services launched by European carriers, based on the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) standard, which have attracted a much smaller number of users and are less advanced.
A key difference between the current European services and I-mode lies in the data network. I-mode operates on a packet system in which users pay only for the data they send and receive. The European services have, until recently, operated over the conventional switched network and levied time-based usage charges on users, making them considerably more expensive to use than I-mode. With the launch of GPRS (General Packet Radio System) on many European networks, packet-based services will become possible.
With the launch of I-mode, the carriers won't be totally abandoning WAP-based services. Although the new wireless Internet service to be offered will be based on Compact HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), a subset of the HTML language used on the Internet, handsets for the new service will be dual mode and offer access to WML (Wireless Markup Language) content, the standard for WAP services.