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E-Plus kills i-mode service

German mobile operator bangs in penultimate nail

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E-Plus, the KPN-owned mobile operator from Dusseldorf, is ending its i-mode service from April 1. Subscribers will be offered a Surf & Mail Flatrate service instead.

E-Plus adopted i-mode in 2002, but as in many other European counties the Japanese-inspired service never took off. E-Plus never revealed the number of i-mode subscribers.

i-mode was launched in Japan in February 1999 and became extremely successful. The i-mode phone was once the main driver behind DoCoMo's market share. At one point, i-mode once had 60 million customers in Japan and over five million in the rest of the world. DoCoMo licensed i-mode to operators in Spain, Italy, France and Greece and through KPN in Germany and the Benelux.

But in all these countries i-mode has struggled to make the service a mass-market success. Initially it offered a promising alternative to the unexciting WAP-based platforms, but was quickly outmoded when flatfee 3G services offered unlimited mobile access to the internet.

Last year O2 hit the red button on its i-mode service less than two years after it brought the Japanese mobile web technology to Europe. The company spent £10m to pull in just 250,000 users.

In July 2007 KPN announced that it will no longer be launching new i-mode services or mobile phones, citing low subscriber numbers.

Russian Mobile TeleSystems dropped i-mode last month. The last country to offer i-mode in Europe is Romania. Leading Philippine wireless carrier Smart Communications is set to roll out i-mode services to its postpaid customers in March. ®

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