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i-mode makes US debut With AT&T's mMode

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

NTT DoCoMo Inc's i-mode mobile data service made its US debut yesterday, as DoCoMo partner AT&T wireless Services Inc made its take on the service, mMode, available in a dozen US markets,

Kevin Murphy writes

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As we reported last month, mMode is somewhat different from its popular Japanese counterpart. AT&T Wireless spokesperson Jeremy Pemble explained that while the company has learned a lot from a marketing perspective from DoCoMo, the technology and some services are catered more to the American market.

"A lot of the similarities have to do with not the technology but with the business model," said Pemble. He said there are key areas ATT Wireless has learned from DoCoMo, including developer support, but mainly related to branding and marketing. "It's not internet junior," said Pemble, "It's phone-plus." AT&T has decided, in a nutshell, consumers want to have cool looking phones, useful services, and don't want too much technobabble or to have their expectations raised too high.

An over-emphasis on acronyms, technology and pricing plans is conspicuously absent from AT&T Wireless's marketing, which launched yesterday in major national newspapers and follows a "m-Life" teaser campaign that began in January. But the company graciously provided us with the technological and financial nitty-gritty anyway.

"In terms of the network, DoCoMo and AT&T Wireless are both on the same path to have the same technology backbone for their 3G wireless networks," said Pemble. The company hopes to have its GSM/GPRS network rolled out to all US markets by the end of the year. mMode is a GPRS service, and will ultimate be offered over UMTS too.

mMode pages are WAP/WML pages, but dual-mode phone are due out later this year, which will allow HTML-based services. The first phones to support mMode are the Sony Ericsson T68, the Nokia 8390, the Motorola Timeport P7382I and the forthcoming Siemens S46.

One area where consumers may have to learn some technobabble - a possible barrier to entry - is in terms of pricing. The flat rate or per-minute fees they are familiar with will be replaced by charges based on data transfer. Three pricing plans are available - Mini, Mega and Max - all comprising subscription and data transfer fees.

Mini is $2.99 per month and $0.02 per kilobyte, with no data transfer included. Mega is $7.99, with 1MB transfer and $0.01 per kilobyte after that. Max is $12.49 with two megs transfer included and $0.01 per kilobyte thereafter.

Kilobytes are rounded up on a transaction basis. For example, each web page that is downloaded will be rounded up to the nearest kilobyte. A calculator on the mMode web site helps consumers calculate a suitable pricing plan, and Pemble said a data tracker tool will be made available over the coming weeks.

Services available over mMode include web browsing, email (there are some default options such as AOL or Yahoo! Mail, but users can access their POP3 accounts if they know how) and other premium content services.

The premium services, such as games, will have additional fees, levied by the content providers. AT&T Wireless will charge content providers a one-off setup fee of $499 to access the service, and will take 30% of the subscription fees charges. At first, content providers will have to take credit card numbers, but AT&T will make a billing service available later this year, at which time its cut will drop to something like 20%.

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