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“If you understand the concept of
i-mode, you can succeed anywhere.”

—Kei-ichi Enoki,
Managing Director, i-mode, NTT DoCoMo

Just as they have in North America and Europe, wireless solutions and the mobile Internet have experienced a roller-coaster of fortunes in Asia as well. It has taken companies like Japan’s DoCoMo, a subsidiary of Japanese telecommunications giant NTT, to add some stability to the enterprise. Over the past two years, through its i-mode service, DoCoMo has done more than build a successful business: it has vividly demonstrated that the mobile Internet can work.

DoCoMo launched i-mode in February 1999, and the service proved an instant hit. For Japanese teenagers, i-mode handsets quickly became a “must have” accessory, but clever marketing attracted adult subscribers as well. And while Americans and Europeans with WAP phones and Palm Pilots needed a dial-up connection, their Japanese counterparts did not: from the start, the i-mode service was “always on.” So successful has the i-mode venture been, in fact, that i-mode subscribers now number more than 26 million.

For Kei-ichi Enoki, Managing Director for i-mode, DoCoMo’s success stems from a different concept of the Internet. “The idea of accessing the Internet from a mobile device was not new,” he explains. “But we are the first company in the world to have shown that, by creating a distribution platform for content specially adapted for use on mobile phones, we could build and expand our business.”

Indeed, for DoCoMo, content has been key. Currently, i-mode provides access to 1,800 custom web sites and 47,000 mainstream Internet sites. But what is most crucial is the way in which the content is packaged.

“PCs are like department stores,” says Enoki. “They have a wide selection of content, including excellent graphic images. If you decide to make a visit, you can stay as long as you like and explore different sites at your leisure.” By contrast, “mobile phones are more like convenience stores, where only a selection of goods are on display in the limited space available. The contents have to be simple, but the convenience comes from the fact that they can be accessed at any time.”

Still, DoCoMo is not stopping with its successful “convenience store” approach to content. Last May, the company unveiled its first broadband-content prototype, which Enoki believes will help expand i-mode’s appeal far beyond Japan. “i-mode is not specific to Japanese culture,” he says. “If you understand the concept of i-mode and the ways of developing business, you can succeed anywhere.”

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