DoCoMo hunts for UK partner

This i-mode thing is really good, really

NTT DoCoMo is talking to three mobile network operators about taking its i-mode content platform for the UK, the FT reports.

DoCoMo, Japan's biggest mobile operator, has made a series of hugely expensive minority investments in overseas mobile networks, now mostly written-off, to promote i-mode. This platform for data services is hugely successful in Japan, attracting 40m subscribers. But DoCoMo needs full distribution overseas, if it is to be seen as a forceful competitor to Vodafone Live!

In Europe, where the bulk of the 2m non-Japanese users of i-mode live, DoCoMo can count on Netherland's KPN Mobile and Bouyges Telecom, of France, Wind in Italy, and Telefonica in Spain as partners. KPN operates in Germany and Belgium too, so i-mode has a presence in four out of five of Europe's biggest economies. The UK is the big lacuna, but how is the gap to be filled?

According to the FT, DoCoMo is talking to Orange, T-Mobile and mmO2, all of which have their own mobile data services. Orange today said it was not in discussions with DoCoMo over i-mode. So that leaves two. DoCoMo was unable to persuade 3 UK, in which it held a 20 per cent stake until yesterday, to adopt i-mode, so it will be interesting to see how far such talks progress. mmO2, the smallest, is in our opinion, the only possible taker. The British-owned firm has long been seen as prey, with KPN Mobile and DoCoMo seen as the most likely buyers. In March this year, mmO2 rejected an informal £10bn all-share offer from KPN,

Recent strong results, especially in Germany, has had mm02 talking up its game - with company officials saying that maybe it should be buying KPN Mobile, not the other way round. But the company remains a minnow in a world of mobile network sharks. ®

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