After much will-they won’t-they O2 has announced it will launch i-mode services in its UK, German and Irish territories.
There have long been rumours, but mmO2 has confirmed what many have been saying, that it is to become the latest European operator to launch data services based on NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode technology.
Under the terms of the agreement, O2 is licensed by DoCoMo to offer the i-mode capability to the 22 million customers of its 2/2.5G and 3G mobile communications networks.
O2 UK and O2 Ireland will have exclusive use of i-mode branding and technology in their respective markets. In Germany, the company will launch the service based on i-mode technology under its own brand.
O2 plans to introduce i-mode in the UK and Ireland during the second half of 2005. In Germany, the service will be offered from Spring 2006, allowing sufficient time to develop handsets based on i-mode technology that will incorporate O2 Germany’s Genion HomeZone product.
NTT DoCoMo president and chief executive officer, Masao Nakamura, commented: “I am very pleased to initiate a partnership with mmO2, a leading provider of mobile services. This new collaboration will certainly drive further expansion of i-mode in the global arena.”
Speaking to Mobile Europe, Mike Short, vp O2 group technology, said the decision to choose i-mode was geared towards “a long term view of the activity and growth of mobile data.” He said that O2 had found that customers wanted more content and wanted it to be easier to access.
He said that operator had taken a while to make the decision because it “wanted to make sure the phones in the market are wide enough in range and stable enough to compete in the UK.”
He also said the operator had to give notice to its content, handset and distribution partners, and get them up to speed so they could play a part.
But i-mode service will work alongside O2 Active themed WAP services, Short said, rather than replacing them.
“There will be i-mode dedicated handsets and customers will choose. It will operate in parallel.”
“O2 Active continues to grow but there is a wide range of content that is undiscovered. The removal of those walls will open up a huge content experience.”
Short said that “the key aspect is that it [i-mode] opens up new forms of application such as video clips, 3D gaming, email, ticketing and banking — allowing a new market model to be introduced.”
l O2 has released news of a trial of HSDPA technology on the Isle of Man. The trial, which won’t start until summer 2005, will trial IMS-based services based over HSDPA technology.
Lucent Technologies will provide the network equipment for the Isle of Man trial, although O2 has also been trialling HSDPA equipment from Nortel with a view to incorporating the technology networks its 3G networks in the UK, Ireland and Germany.
O2 has yet to go live with any 3G network so the HSDPA announcement may indicate either that the operator intends to offer high speed mobile broadband services relatively quickly after launch.