British mobile phone network O2 will launch an i-mode service next year after licensing the technology from Japanese telco NTT DoCoMo, newspaper reports have claimed.
O2 parent mmO2 is certainly considering an i-mode implementation. Chief executive Peter Erskine recently said the company would come to a decision by the end of the year on whether to adopt the mobile Internet technology.
Today's Nihon Keizai Shimbun report suggests that the decision to proceed has now been taken with a view to a mid-2005 launch. The paper said that mmO2 and DoCoMo have now agreed on the terms and nature of a licensing agreement, though it's not clear whether a deal has been signed. A separate Financial Times report claims the two companies will announce the deal next week.
Britain remains the only European country without an i-mode based service. While the technology was central to Japan's adoption of mobile phone Internet services, in Europe the rise of the GPRS packet data extensions to GSM networks and weak support for i-mode from handset vendors has hindered the technology's adoption here.
In Japan, some 43m subscribers use i-mode. Compare that to the 3m i-mode users in Europe, a very small figure in spite of the fact that i-mode didn't arrive here until 2002, three years after its Japanese debut.
DoCoMo has been talking to UK networks about bring i-mode to Britain since deciding to abandon hopes that 3G network 3 - in which it had a 20 per cent stake until May this year - would offer the technology. ®