TOKYO (01/26/2000) - Japan's leading cellular operator, NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. (NTT DoCoMo), has begun a push of its i-Mode mobile Internet technology system overseas.
The technology has been in use in Japan for less than a year although NTT DoCoMo already has more than 3 million subscribers using the system for everything from checking news and sports scores to home banking and downloading new cartoon characters into their telephones. With a big marketing push in Japan, the company is seeing new subscriptions approach half a million per month.
The system differs from WAP (wireless application protocol), its major competitor, in that it uses HTML (hypertext markup language), the same language used to write conventional Internet Web sites. Its support for HTML doesn't mean the entire Web is available to users however. The limited screen size and memory of the telephones mean some conventional Web sites can be accessed but with difficulty.
The majority of mobile Internet services currently available and being launched are based on the competing WAP system and require pages are written in HDML (handheld device markup language) or WML (wireless markup language). At present, WAP Forum members, of which NTT DoCoMo is one, are discussing the future version 2.0 of the format and plan for it to support the evolving XHTML (Extensible HTML) standard.
As a first step the company is in talks with Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telephone Co. Ltd., in which it acquired a stake late last year, on use of i-Mode in Hong Kong. "We are in the stage of discussing it now," said NTT DoCoMo spokeswoman Yuki Isono. She added an agreement was "not that close" at present and the two companies still had some issues to work out.
The Tuesday morning edition of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported NTT DoCoMo is eyeing a launch of i-Mode in Hong Kong in the third quarter of this year together with the debut of a cellular handset that can be used in both countries.
Hutchison Telephone is Hong Kong's leading cellular carrier and has 1.2 million customers, or around 36 percent share of the market. It operates both GSM (global system for mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access) based networks although the majority of its customers are on the GSM network.
In early December 1999, NTT DoCoMo announced plans to take a 19 percent stake in Hutchison Telephone [See "NTT DoCoMo to Take Stake in Hutchison Telephone," Dec. 2, 1999]. At the time, NTT DoCoMo executive vice president Shiro Tsuda said the focus of the acquisition was on third generation cellular technology and pushing the NTT-backed W-CDMA (Wideband CDMA) format overseas but added, in response to a question, that the deal might also lead to Hutchison licensing i-Mode for its current second-generation cellular system.
NTT DoCoMo, in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.nttdocomo.com/.