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DoCoMo Bolsters Euro Presence

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
7/16/2002

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) is setting up an i-mode consulting firm to help promote and launch the services of its four existing European partners and to push for further relationships with the region's mobile operators (see DoCoMo Creates Dutch Sub).

The company, to be called DoCoMo i-mode Europe B.V., will be in business by the end of this month, according to its parent company. In particular, it will seek to license DoCoMo's technology and provide its know-how to carriers that have witnessed the impact of i-mode services in the Netherlands, from KPN Mobile, and in Germany, from KPN subsidiary E-Plus Mobilfunk GmbH, in the past few months (see Euro I-Mode: So Far, So Good).

Next to launch the Euro-style i-mode service -- basically WAP content across GPRS networks -- is another KPN company, Base (formerly KPN Orange) in Belgium, which, having delayed its planned June launch, is now set to market the service in the autumn. The fourth named partner is French operator Bouygues Telecom, which plans to ease its 6.2 million subscribers into the mobile data world with i-mode sometime before next summer, before launching 3G services sometime next year or in 2004.

Dutch carrier KPN, then, is in the thick of things, which explains the location of the new company. "We are very content with the fact that an i-mode consulting firm will be established in the Netherlands," says a KPN Mobile spokeswoman. "NTT DoCoMo is a very respected partner with a lot of experience on introducing i-mode and its services in Japan."

Being a respected and useful partner is not yet enough to tempt U.K. greenfield 3G operator Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. into kicking off its mobile data services with an i-mode service. "We are learning a lot from DoCoMo, which is a good technology partner as well as a shareholder [15 percent], but we have no plans to launch any i-mode services," says Hutchison spokesman Ed Brewster.

Just the kind of message DoCoMo does not want to hear. If it can't persuade a company in which it holds a stake to take on the i-mode brand, then it might have a tough time selling the idea to others. The lack of willing partners appears to be one of the catalysts for staffing a wholly-owned consultancy in the heart of Europe, as the company is convinced that Europe's operators can benefit from the i-mode approach.

Takeshi Natsuno, DoCoMo's managing director of i-mode strategy, is absolutely convinced that the concept can be transferred to Europe's operators and believes that, following the marketing flop that was WAP, it is simply a matter of providing mobile data services that offer more value to subscribers.

Natsuno knows it will be a challenge to add more operator customers to DoCoMo's current list of partners. "We have a step-by-step approach" to expansion in Europe, he says.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
http://www.unstrung.com

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