A new i-mode of communication

DoCoMo hopes the phenomenal success of i-mode in Japan will enable it to dominate Europe’s wireless applications market – thanks to a £1.2bn stake in Hutchinson 3G UK.

NTT DoCoMo’s foray into the European wireless applications market is an important step for the ambitious Japanese mobile giant in its plan to become a global player, not only in mobile communications but also wireless Internet.

DoCoMo is spending £1.2bn on a 20 per cent stake in Hutchison 3G UK Holdings, which owns a British third-generation universal mobile telecoms system licence, together with Canada’s Telesystem International Wireless. The Japanese operator, which already has a tie-up with KPN Mobile in the Netherlands, is exploring opportunities in France, Germany and Belgium, among other European countries.

DoCoMo’s trump card is the success of i-mode – its wireless Net service in Japan, which has about 9 million subscribers.

The company aims to give i-mode mass-market appeal by developing a wide range of content. It now has more than 500 “application partners”, which provide an expanding range of applications and services – a small but growing number of which are in English. These include: e-mail, online chat, business, financial, general and sports news, games, horoscopes, restaurant guides, Net banking and insurance, airline and travel reservations, train timetables, entertainment bookings, car rental, music downloads, job searches, flat rental, pollen counts, links to corporate intranets, and so on.

In Japan, e-mail is used by three-quarters of i-mode subscribers and companies are discovering more e-mail opportunities. For example, video rental chain Tsutaya can e-mail i-mode club members to provide them with the address of the nearest store which has their desired CD or video in stock.

When it comes to surfing i-mode’s content, amusement and entertainment are the most popular features, accounting for 40 per cent of traffic. Information services such as news and weather account for 20 per cent, with financial services accounting for ten to 15 per cent and catalogue services such as telephone directory assistance generating about ten per cent of traffic. The services offered outside DoCoMo’s portal account for the remaining ten to 15 per cent.

The scale of Japan’s wireless Net market is attracting the attention of marketers and agencies alike. Earlier this year, Ogilvy & Mather launched m.Ogilvy – a consultancy which allows clients to take advantage of the new communication opportunities presented by mobile phones. It is headed by former Japanese Science & Technology Agency fellow Dr John Ricketts: “Our business model has little to do with advertising. Understanding the needs of marketers in great depth, and being able to deliver solutions that match these needs, is what drives the business.”

Japan is at the cutting edge of mobile marketing and the remarkable success of DoCoMo’s i-mode is a blue-print for the rest of the world.

McCann-Erickson is developing a broad- based consultancy approach through Zentropy Partnership. Chris Beaumont, executive vice-president in Tokyo and the mastermind behind Zentropy in Asia, says: “Simply put, we will be providing end to-end solutions. Zentropy innovates for the customer – it is about delivering real-world results, not technology.”

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