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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

NTT DoCoMo Inc's i-mode mobile data service will formally launch in Europe on March 8 when the Japanese operator's key European partner, KPN Mobile, unveils its new service at the CeBIT fair in Hannover.

The mobile subsidiary of Dutch incumbent Royal KPN NV will launch in Germany under the E-Plus brand, and will follow with other locally branded i-mode services in the Netherlands next month, and in Belgium in June.

The arrival of i-mode in Europe, so far the heartland of mobile phone technology, promises to offer a fascinating clash between the world's single most successful mobile data service, and the wave of new data services that Europe's wireless operators are only now beginning to offer across their 2.5G GPRS networks. In Japan, i-mode has attracted more than 30 million subscribers in a little over three years. By the end of next year, KPN said it expects to have one million i-mode users across Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

With London-based Hutchison 3G UK Ltd also planning to support i-mode over its 3G network (which is expected to launch in the fourth quarter this year), DoCoMo's service could exceed one million European customers within the next 12 months, and grow even faster if DoCoMo succeeds in its plans to recruit further local partners among Europe's wireless operators. Certainly, if KPN's early GPRS-based i-mode is a success, many other wireless operators may consider a partnership with DoCoMo that will give them access to i-mode's established portfolio of applications and services.

Yesterday, KPN offered little guidance about who its i-mode content partners are or what the available applications will be. However, it said it has 100 potential content partners signed up who will charge approximately 2 euros ($1.74) per month for their services. To access these services, subscribers will first have to acquire an NEC N2li i-mode handset for 249 euros ($217).

Earlier this year, KPN said it also expected to source i-mode handsets from Toshiba Corp.

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