popularity has rocketed since its launch in Japan in 1999.
CK Mah looks at its success and asks if the same deal
can be repeated elsewhere
has attracted over 28 million subscribers in Japan alone.
is the new platform for mobile phone communications that has
revolutionized the way nearly one-fifth of the people in Japan
live and work. Introduced in Feb 1999, this convenient new
form of mobile service has attracted over 28 million subscribers
in Japan alone.
With i-mode, mobile phone users get easy access to thousands
of Internet sites, as well as specialized services such as
e-mail, online shopping, mobile banking, ticket reservations,
and restaurant reviews. Mobile users can access sites from
anywhere in Japan, and at unusually low rates, because their
charges are based on the volume of data transmitted, not the
amount of time spent connecting. NTT DoCoMo's i-mode network
structure not only provides access to i-mode and i-mode-compatible
content through the Internet, but also provides access through
a dedicated leased-line circuit for added security.
A Unique Business Model
NTT DoCoMo had the foresight to create i-mode at a time when
the Japanese market for mobile phones was reaching maturity
and users were in need of new services. i-mode did not just
generate new revenue for NTT DoCoMo in a saturated mobile
marketplace it has redefined the meaning of mobile communications.
i-mode has been phenomenally successful in Japan because it
is remarkably convenient for mobile users, employs powerful
new technology, and relies on NTT DoCoMo's unique i-mode business
Underlying this business model is an entirely new approach
to the mobile service value chain and to the relationship
between wireless service and the Internet. Therefore the key
question is: can the same business model be replicated elsewhere
for a different culture and market nature?
NTT DoCoMo synchronizes the entire i-mode value chain, in
order to develop a complete mobile service for their subscribers.
Their close business collaboration with mobile manufacturers,
content providers, and other service platforms ensures that
mobile technology, content quality, and mobile users' experience
evolve at the same optimal pace.
Ultimately, this synchronization guarantees that their customers,
business partners and shareholders have their interests aligned
with the mobile user's, enabling all parties involved in the
value chain to maximize their value. In addition, they encourage
continual feedback from all parties (business partners or
subscribers) involved in their value chain, including customers.
Such candid feedback has enabled their company and business
partners to align their interests accordingly, and has helped
to continually improve the quality of all products and services
connected with i-mode. For instance, open exchange of research
and technical data has led to the creation of richer content
and lighter, better performing mobile devices that are extremely
popular in the Japanese market.
NTT DoCoMo based their development efforts on a unified vision
of mobile and Internet technology. In particular, NTT DoCoMo
has adopted a mobile communications model utilizing variations
of de facto Internet standards such as HTML. By basing their
content on iHTML, a subset of HTML, they are able to give
their customers mobile access to the existing network of conventional
Web servers, and therefore, provide them with seamless Web
service. At the same time, their use of iHTML has greatly
simplified the creation of i-mode sites for their content
providers. Other key standards they have adopted include GIF,
Java, MIDI, and HTTP, to name a few.
As mobile services in Japan evolve and data traffic increases,
their unique collaborative business approach will give them
a major competitive advantage in communications markets around
the world. NTT DoCoMo's success is, and will continue to be,
due to their ability to create a "win-win" situation
for all of their stakeholders, including their customers.
Theoretically, this can be re-created around the world, but
given the lack of similar business collaboration among the
entire value chain, it will be of great challenge to form
the same success elsewhere.
Users of i ppli, i-mode's newest Java-based enhancement, can
download maps to help them reach their business destinations
and display charts of daily stock price fluctuations. With
Java-based agent applications, mobile users can set their
terminals to receive automatic updates on weather, traffic,
and other types of information. i ppli also maximizes scheduling
efficiency by notifying mobile users instantly whenever appointments
are changed on corporate groupware. From remote locations,
mobile users can monitor the activities of staff members,
check the availability of meeting rooms, etc.
Notably, the i ppli software supports two versions of SSL
encryption (40-bit and 128-bit). This added level of available
data security should fuel a dramatic surge in the popularity
of mobile-based, financial transactions. In the future, i
ppli will offer many more conveniences; since Java's open
specifications are encouraging the development of more advanced
Now that NTT DoCoMo has introduced the high-speed multimedia
power of FOMA (freedom of mobile multimedia access), 3G mobile
services will be on greatly benefited by i-mode's business
possibilities. With i ppli, users of compact, Java-compatible
i-mode terminals can download advanced software and content
from more than 100 websites and then use the downloaded applications
or content whenever they want.
Based on the W-CDMA system, which complies with IMT-2000 an
international standard for 3G mobile communications, FOMA
is fuelling the dramatic evolution of i-mode, other Web-connection
services, and innovative applications such as i ppli. It supports
full-motion video image transmission, music and game distribution,
and other high-speed, large-capacity data communications.
However, the most important challenge is not technology in
the growth of mobile technology but rather, in breaking the
cultural differences. How do we replicate the success of i-mode
elsewhere around the world, in particular, Asia where the
maturity of mobile technologies varies from country to country?
The task of getting all the business value chain stakeholders
to support a similar business model will not be easy, and
even difficult to justify from profitability perspective given
the various cost model in each country. Until then, i-mode
in Asia will be put on hold.
New i ppli-cation for i-mode
Launched in Jan 2001, i ppli is the result of new advances
in Japan mobile technology and NTT DoCoMo's close cooperation
in recent years with Sun Microsystems. i ppli uses the Java
platform developed by Sun for consumer
electronics and built-in devices, as well as i-mode's large
extended library, which was developed jointly by the two companies.
Since the data processing power of mobile phones is far less
than that of PCs, i-mode uses a version of Java called KVM
(K virtual machines). KVM runs on systems with relatively
low processing power. A key feature of KVM is that its security
functions are superior to those of standard Java.
So, i ppli users do not have to worry about unauthorized viewing
of their digital address books and other personal files, or
the unintentional placing of calls billable to them. Although
KVM i ppli will not directly run standard Java programs, mobile
users can easily convert many Java applications for i-mode
use with minimal changes in functionality.
Significantly, the overall architecture of the i-mode network
remains the same with the advent of i ppli. With i-mode terminals,
i ppli users can download Java applications from conventional
HTTP Internet sites just as easily as they do HTML documents,
and Java programs on i-mode terminals also use the HTTP format
for data communications. Best of all, i ppli content is graphically-rich
and simple to use, containing the kind of expressive images,
text, and sounds that are possible with Java.
CK Mah writes for Network Computing-Asian Edition