O2 announces i-mode (just don't mention WAP)

Mobile phones

In a briefing to journalists in a lovely old fashioned West End pub this morning, O2 announced details of its plans to launch a new mobile internet service by the end of the year. The new service, which uses Japanese company NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode technology, will be available via 2.5 and 3G handsets from Alcatel, LG, Motorola, NEC, Panasonic, Sagem, Samsung and Siemens. Details of specific handsets, prices and content providers have yet to be announced but O2 promises that its customers will be able to access content in an instant just by pressing a yellow ‘i’ button on their phone. O2 claims that users will be able to uses i-mode straight out of the box without the configuration that WAP requires.

In the briefing, the company was extremely keen to distance the new service from its ongoing O2 Active service which uses very similar WAP technology. According to 02, i-mode pages are much quicker to load and easier to read than WAP. Importantly visited i-mode pages will be cached in the memory making navigation much easier. Whereas WAP services are geared around entertainment (ringtones, games etc.), iMode will be more about ‘lifestyle’. Hence O2 is currently talking to banks about providing mobile banking services and transport companies for local travel information.

However, the launch of the new i-mode service, which will be exclusive to O2 in the UK, is sure to create even more customer confusion about mobile internet services. One of the likely causes of concern is pricing. Though some content in the iMode portal – or ecosystem as some O2 people were calling it – will be free, much of it will be charged for. O2 customers will also have to pay the GPRS charges just to find the content they want to download.

Launched in 1999 in Japan by NTT DoCoMo, i-mode now has 42 million subscribers in Japan and more than 80,000 content sites. There are now nine operators outside Japan in France, Spain, Greece, Netherlands, Australia, Taiwan, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

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