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NTT DoCoMo is predicting major consolidation in the European mobile market and may seek to join forces with one of the survivors, according to reports.

In an interview with the Financial Times, NTT DoCoMo President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Keiji Tachikawa predicted that just four mobile operators would exist in Europe after a re-alignment of the market. He said that his company will need to link up with one of the remaining companies. "I think it would be better if we had an equity relationship," he is quoted as saying.

Spokespeople for the mobile operator said there were no plans now for such a tie-up, but told Reuters that new partnerships in Europe remain a possibility for the company.

DoCoMo already holds stakes in European operators Hutchison 3G, which plans to offer services in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Israel and Sweden. DoCoMo also owns a stake in Dutch company KPN Mobile, which offers services in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

But in December the Japanese company declined to purchase new shares in KPN Mobile, prompting questions about DoCoMo's commitment to Europe. Dr. Tachikawa's comments will be seen as reassurance that Europe still figures prominently in DoCoMo's future expansion plans.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Dr. Tachikawa said he believed a re-alignment in the European industry would take place as early as this year. On the possibility of partners, he is quoted as saying that "Orange is too weak," although he did say that DoCoMo has maintained relationships with Italy's Telecom Italia Mobile and Telefonica of Spain. Vodafone is also thought to be a candidate for cooperation.

DoCoMo has pioneered mobile data services like i-mode and was an early adopter of 3G mobile services in Japan. But it has fallen short of its take-up targets for its 3G service in Japan (known as FOMA), and last year the company was also forced to write off YEN573 billion (USD4.7 billion) from its 3G assets overseas to reflect the losses in their value. Of that write-down, USD1 billion was for its stake in Hutchison 3G UK and USD878 million was for its stake in KPN Mobile.

One major success for the firm has been sales of camera phones. DoCoMo said on Tuesday that it has now reached the five million mark for sales of i-shot handsets, less than a month after reaching four million in sales. The company's i-shot service, launched last June, lets customers use a camera phone to take and send images to any devices that receive e-mail.

© ENN

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