i-mode is a mobile internet (as opposed to wireless internet) service popular in Japan. Unlike Wireless Application Protocol, i-mode encompasses a wider variety of internet standards, including web access, e-mail and the packet-switched network that delivers the data. i-mode users have access to various services such as e-mail, sports results, weather forecast, games, financial services and ticket booking. Content is provided by specialized services, typically from the mobile carrier, which allows them to have tighter control over billing.
Like WAP, i-mode delivers only those services that are specifically converted for the service, or are converted through gateways. This has placed both systems at a disadvantage against handsets that use "real" browser software, and generally use a flat pricing structure for data. Even i-mode's creator, Takeshi Natsuno, has stated "I believe the iPhone (a phone that uses the traditional TCP/IP model) is closer to the mobile phone of the future, compared with the latest Japanese mobile phon
i-Mode is the packet-based service for mobile phones offered by Japan's leader in wireless technology, NTT DoCoMo. Unlike most of the key players in the wireless arena, i-Mode eschews the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and uses a simplified version of HTML, Compact Wireless Markup Language (CWML) instead of WAP's Wireless Markup Language (WML). NTT DoCoMo has said that eventually it will support WAP and WML, but the company has not said exactly when this will happen.
First introduced in Japan in February 1999 by NTT DoCoMo, i-mode is one of the worldâ€™s most successful servicesoffering wireless web browsing and e-mail from mobile phones. Whereas until recently, mobile phones were usedmostly for making and receiving voice calls, i-mode phones allow users also to use their handsets to access variousinformation services and communicate via e-mail.In Japan, i-mode is most popular among young users, 24 to 35 years of age. The heaviest users of i-mode are women in their late 20â€™s. As of November 2000, i-mode had an estimated 14.9 million users.When using i-mode services, you do not pay for the time you are connected to a website or service, but are charged only according to the volume of data transmitted. That means that you can stay connected toa single website for hours without paying anything, as long as no data is transmitted .
Can i-mode Go Global?
Mention the wireless Web to a telecom industry insider, and the conversation will probably turn to i-mode, the successful Japanese mobile service that lets users send messages, exchange pictures, play games, and even use their phones for karaoke. Launched in February 1999 by NTTDoCoMo, i-mode left its European and American counterparts in the dust as it took the much-ballyhooed dream of mobile Internet and made it a reality. While other countries were mired in hype, Japan’s DoCoMo was able to execute on the promise, signing up new users at an enviable pace. Takeshi Natsuno, a Wharton graduate who is the managing director of i-mode strategy for NTTDoCoMo, says that there are currently 34 million subscribers to the service in Japan.
i-mode subscription growth, however, can only go so far; with nearly 70% of the Japanese population using mobile phones, DoCoMo is now racing to stay ahead of the game. Anticipating the future, the company has licensed its service to telecommunications companies in several European and Asian countries including the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Taiwan, and it is working with AT&T Wireless on an American flavor of the platform (m-mode). DoCoMo has even set up a consulting firm in Europe as a base station to support its partners. But whether i-mode will be successful as an export is still an open question.
Cultural Anomaly or Cunning Strategy?
How did DoCoMo do it in Japan? One reason cited for i-mode’s success is the Japanese penchant for handheld gadgets (mobile-toting teens are often termed oyayubi-zoku, or the “thumb tribe”) and lack of the kind of landline Internet infrastructure legacy that exists in the U.S. Natsuno, however, doesn’t buy this argument, and claims that the real reason is its shrewd control of its value chain. “Do you really think all Japanese (125 million) or even all i-mode subscribers love technology? And why did Europe – where not every country is like the U.S. in terms of Internet penetration – fail to take up wireless Internet? By setting up what ordinary consumers want, you can make new markets. i-mode is the value chain. By setting up the best Internet service in each country, I can make it succeed.”