NTT DoCoMo Struts Its Stuff at Telecom Asia

Mention the wireless Internet at Telecom Asia here this week and most people will think of one thing: NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s spectacularly successful I-mode service. From panel discussions to presentations, talk about I-mode was all over Telecom Asia and visitors got one of the first looks at a new range of handsets that include support for Java.

Most attendees were familiar with I-mode. A barrage of press coverage, both in the trade and national press, has made it one of the hottest technologies in the world of telecommunications although few visitors, with the exception of those from Japan, had used the system.

While the real service could not be demonstrated because the phones only work with NTT's cellular network, DoCoMo's booth had the next best thing -- a computer screen simulating the service.

"It's cool," said Edwina Li, business manager for local business management provider Dots 21 Group Ltd. while checking a sample train timetable. "I think it's very advanced," Li said. She doesn't use the wireless Internet service of her local cellular carrier in Hong Kong, but might use a service like I-mode if it was available. I-mode has the advantage of color graphics over many current wireless Internet services.

During the show the company disclosed the latest statistics on I-mode content. A total of 721 information providers are responsible for the 1,280 sites that make up DoCoMo's main I-mode menu, said a company spokeswoman, while a further 31,085 I-mode sites created by third parties and individuals also exist. There are over 15.5 million subscribers.

While the computers simulated the existing service, DoCoMo was also using the show to give people a first glimpse at new handsets that the carrier hopes to launch in January next year.

The 503-series telephones all feature support for Java. Users of DoCoMo's new service, branded I-Appli, will be able to download Java applets ranging from animated clocks and games to stock tickers and share price trackers.

Models of six new handsets were on display, and representatives from the company had some working models. One, from Sony Corp., featured a 65,536 color TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) -- the most advanced display of the six phones -- and like the others had the capacity to store up to 5 applets, each of up to 10K bytes in size.

Away from I-mode, the company made a center-piece of design mock-ups of future third generation handsets. DoCoMo plans to launch a 3G network in Tokyo in May 2001, expected to be the world's first such network, and this area of the company's stand was also attracting much attention.

Additionally, a new PocketPC computer the company plans to sell, acquired under an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) agreement from Casio Computer Co. Ltd., also got its first public debut at the show. While lacking integrated wireless access, DoCoMo's Compact Flash (CF) card-based wireless modem can be connected to the computer.

But it wasn't just at the company's stand that the excitement around what has to be the world's hottest cellular operator existed. Many of the Japanese companies exhibiting at Telecom Asia were also proudly showing off I-mode handsets, design prototype 3G handsets and even switching and routing equipment for the backbone of DoCoMo's new 3G network.

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