Q. We’re talking mobile internet, right?
A. Well, kind of. i-mode is a proprietary mobile data service owned by Japan’s NTT DoCoMo. The network operator has signed up 31.1 million i-mode users in Japan (figure: 17 Feb 2002) since the start of 1999, and they can get information pushed to their mobiles (or keitai) or do other things like play games, or surf approved i-mode sites.

Q. So it’s like WAP?
A. Not really. WAP is open and something of a global standard. Jealous execs from equipment companies still hyping WAP have called i-mode “a DoCoMo intranet”. Ouch.

Q. And i-mode is different in another important way?
A. Right. It’s successful. WAP has left most users nonplussed and certainly not raked in revenue for operators. i-mode, on the other hand, is something of a money spinner. Importantly, it is an always-on service, albeit a slow one, whereas WAP relies on users dialling up pages, which can be tediously slow. DoCoMo makes money from the bytes users download, but also from splitting subscriptions users sign up to. And it’s also colour-enabled, unlike WAP sites.

Q. What type of subscriptions can you get over i-mode?
A. Say you want to get a daily horoscope. A user might pay, say, Y300 per month (about $3). This revenue goes to the horoscope service provider, and DoCoMo takes a 9 per cent cut.

Q. Great, how do I get to become a content provider?
A. Remember, DoCoMo owns the customer. Getting to be an approved provider isn’t easy. There are hoops to jump through. But once there, the rewards seem to be worth it.

Q. Why don’t European operators adopt a similar model?
A. They’re eventually coming around to this ‘revenue-split’ idea. But slowly. T-Motion, the mobile portal owned by Germany’s T-Mobile, announced plans this year to split revenues – up to now there has been little incentive for content providers to be innovative. Other mobile operators are coming around too. We backed this move – http://www.silicon.com/a46174 ‘I second that T-Motion’

Q. When will we see i-mode in the rest of the world?
A. Plans are afoot but hold your horses. On the back of its domestic success, NTT DoCoMo has struck deals which may see AT&T Wireless and Taiwan’s KG Telecom as well as European operators Telefonica, TIM in Italy, and KPN Mobile (with networks in Holland, Belgium and Germany) take up the i-mode baton. That said, these and other operators have invested millions in WAP and the upcoming 3G platform, so paying royalties to DoCoMo may not be on.

Q. And why the silly DoCoMo name?
A. It’s a pun. We’ll spare you their name in full, but the phrase ‘dokomo’ means ‘anywhere’ in Japanese. Language lesson over.

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**Essential Links**

From the silicon.com archive
Mobile developers cock-a-hoop at T-Motion announcement
Ovum View: Avoiding the WAP trap

External Links
All about I-mode (NTT DoCoMo site)
software firms