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December 19, 2002
Santa shuffled down KPN Mobile's chimney early this year, giving the mobile operator -- which is active across northern Europe and which is undergoing a financial restructuring -- a couple of reasons to be cheerful (see DoCoMo's Purse Stays Shut ).First off, it managed to sign up its 100,000th i-Mode customer in the Netherlands (see KPN Reaches i-Mode Milestone). Given that across its three mobile operators -- E-Plus Mobilfunk GmbH in Germany and BASE in Belgium, in addition to the Dutch parent -- just 143,000 users were recorded in November (see I-Mode's Arrested Development), there has clearly been a pre-Christmas surge. Spokeswoman Carla van Lomwel says "E-Plus also has more than 100,000 i-Mode users," but that it's too early to give any figures for the Belgian operation, which only launched its i-Mode service in October (see Brussels Sprouts I-Mode). This gives KPN more than 200,000 i-Moders in total, having launched in Germany in March 2002, and in the Netherlands in April. The company has a target of 1 million i-Mode users in the combined territories before the end of 2003, so it's got its work cut out to achieve that goal, given its growth to date -- especially as it is up against a rival service from Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) in the two main territories (see Vodafone Goes Live!). Indeed, reports in the Dutch press suggest that the Live! service's easy-to-use picture messaging capability is making it the more popular option.In the 3G market, E-Plus is to receive €150 million in cash from failed German 3G startup Quam, which had struck a GSM roaming deal with E-Plus so that it could offer its prospective customer national voice coverage from day one (see E-Plus Gets Quam Payback). Unfortunately for Quam, "day one" never arrived (see Quam Quits for Good).The deal also gives E-Plus "first option" on the sites Quam had already secured for its 3G rollout. "If we think there are sites that fit in with our plans, and will help us meet our license obligations in areas where we do not currently have sites, then we will take those sites for a modest price," says a KPN spokesman. Unfortunately, he wouldn't reveal how many sites E-Plus was considering, or indeed how many Quam has to sell. — Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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