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TECH TALK: Mobile Internet: NTT Docomos i-mode (Part 2)

August 2nd, 2006 · No Comments

Docomo put together an end-to-end solution to provide services on the go for mobile users. By using CHTML, it provided a language that was easy for content providers to use. It shared 91% of the content revenue with the provider while keeping the data access charges to itself. It also took care of billing for the various service providers. For end users, handsets came with an i-mode button which made for easy access. I-mode succeeded because its openness created a thriving industry of service providers. Docomo succeeded in using the open principles of the Internet and applying it in the mobile context.

Mike Gauba thinks that i-modes was an accidental success. He said in an interview (Sep 2005) with i-mode strategy:

A superficial success analysis of i-mode may conclude that it was the right thing at the right time and at the right place, hence the success. i-mode was an initiative to develop new revenue streams in a saturating voice market. Mobile Internet was a good solution for a market that lacked fixed Internet infrastructure. Japan has high adoptability for technology so much so that even the toilet seats are digital, rapid adoption of technology was not an issue. Japan is also a thickly populated collectivist society, where the “must have” “mass” phenomenon could be very strong.

In European markets, Internet was well entrenched when i-mode was first introduced and thus the challenge at that time was to migrate users from applications on Internet or other technology platforms to i-mode.

After discussing with a couple of i-mode service providers and also from the media reports, I gather the factors like low notional thresholds, technology disruption and network effect had not been considered for designing the value proposition of the service. If these factors came into play by themselves in Japan that does not mean that this will also happen in other markets too.

This is in fact my basis for calling it an accidental success.

To date, Docomos success with i-mode has not been replicated elsewhere. The mobile Internet, for the most part, remains something which is a mirage. Mobile data services are restricted to services provided by the operators. The walled gardens do not encourage independent service providers to come in. India, along with most other countries, is in the same boat.

So, what makes me think that things will be different going ahead and that India has an opportunity and the environment to replicate i-modes success.

Tomorrow: India Scenario


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