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O2 serves notice on i-mode service

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O2 has hit the red button on its i-mode service less than two years after it brought the Japanese mobile web technology to Europe.

The Spanish-owned telco says "a limited range of devices has restricted its growth and we don't see that changing". It will support the service for another couple of years, but won't launch any more handsets.

Those with working medium term memories may remember the excitement over i-mode around the turn of the century, with Western telco execs breathlessly detailing how exciting it was to watch Japanese commuters check email, download manga, and groom their tamagotchis.

Striking a Zen-like stance yesterday, O2 declared: "i-mode is part of the evolution of the mobile internet but not the end point."

Perhaps it wishes it had concluded this before striking a long term alliance with NTT DoCoMo to bring the service to the UK in 2005, and then, according to The Guardian, spending £10m to pull in just 250,000 users.

Analysts at Ovum declared today that i-mode was running against the trend in the mobile data market, as "regular users of the internet on mobiles will become increasingly dissatisfied with 'having the meter running' while they surf, and the trend is already moving in favour of flat-rate data tariffs".

At the same time, Ovum points out, customers don't need their hands held while they access the web from their phones. "As AOL discovered in the fixed world, the more internet-savvy users get, the less interested they are in getting access, content, and services in the same package from the same provider."

Let's hope O2's experience with a "next big thing" starting with an i doesn't put it off the rumoured deal to launch Apple's iPhone over here. ®

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