On Friday, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) launched its new fixed-line telephone-based Internet service L-Mode. The company hopes that the service, which is currently only available in Japan will become as popular as NTT DoCoMo's i-Mode wireless phone Internet service, which has so far attracted 25 million customers.
L-Mode-compatible telephones have a 4-inch LCD panel used to navigate the service. Using a series of largely text-based menus, users can access a range of information services via L-Mode. Currently, there are 193 sites provided by 170 vendors available for L-Mode, most of which provide information on entertainment, finance and travel and transportation. NTT hopes the number of L-Mode sites will increase to around 1,000 in the future, said Kohsuke Oonawa, a spokesman for NTT East.
One distinctive feature NTT is trying to emphasize in L-Mode is that because a user's location is always the same, localized information services can be more easily offered than with the i-Mode service. For instance, L-Mode automatically provides a user's local weather forecast by detecting the user's area code, whereas with i-Mode, users need to manually type in which city's weather forecast they want to see.
L-Mode users who are away from home can check their e-mail and browse the service via IC (integrated circuit) card pay phones using an IC card and an L-Mode card.
Because the system is accessed via a telephone, L-Mode makes it easier to browse the Internet or send email than through a personal computer or small mobile handset, Oonawa said. For this reason, NTT is targeting housewives, who don't necessarily carry mobile phones, and the elderly, who tend to be computer illiterate and may have difficulties looking at the small screens of cell phones, he said.
L-Mode is based on the same Compact HTML programming language as i-Mode, although there are some slight differences between the services that mean users will be able to browse some, but not all, i-Mode sites using L-Mode terminals.
L-Mode terminals are being made by Sharp, NEC, NTT and Matsushita – better known by its Panasonic brand name. More manufacturers are expected to produce L-Mode-enabled telephones, NTT East said. A fax function on the phones allows users to print out information while viewing an L-Mode site.
NTT does not expect L-Mode to see explosive growth in the number of users as it saw with i-Mode. "Consumers do not change their household telephones very often like they upgrade mobile handsets. We expect many L-Mode telephones to be available at stores soon and the service to be gradually adopted each time a new telephone is purchased," Oonawa said.
NTT expects to have 1.5 to 2 million subscribers in the next few years, according to Oonawa. As of June 28, a total of about 2,000 people had subscribed to the service nationwide, he said.