In Februar 2002 I had the opportunity to interview Takeshi Natsuno, Executive Director, NTT DoCoMo Inc about I-Mode. I-Mode, a huge success already in Japan was entering the European market … Takeshi Natsuno’s name stands out as a linchpin in this story – the guru of i-mode content. A graduate of Wharton Business School, Natsuno gets the credit for designing a profitable, info-entertainment wireless platform that has morphed into Japan’s biggest market success in years. He lured high-quality content providers with a micro payments scheme that enables providers to charge fees for their services – ranging from horoscopes to stock quotes.
According to Wikipedia, as of June 30, 2006, i-mode has 46.8 million customers in Japan and over 5 million in the rest of the world. Meanwhile they’ve passed the 50 millions in Japan a huge success! Why did it fail in Europe?
Germany (eplus) stopped the service in 2006, in July 2007 O2 in the United Kingdom and KPN in The Netherlands were dropping support for i-mode services. Low subscriber numbers were cited as reasons, as was lack of support from some vendors.
Many reasons for the failure have been named and listed. I follow the argumantation of the CTO of one of the key technology firms behind i-Mode, Access Co’s Tomihisa Kamada. He has indicated that he believes that the lack of DoCoMo control over the implementation of the technology overseas has led to its poor performance outside Japan.
Speaking in Beijing at the ATRE 2006 summit, Kamada-san said that the advanced content platform technology, which dominates the mobile content market in Japan, had been hindered overseas because DoCoMo was restricted by its partnership agreements with other network operators in those regions.
NTT DoCoMo, the largest Japanese mobile network operator, created the i-Mode standard with the help of technology firms including Access Co, but licensed it to local operators – including the UK’s O2 – in other regions. According to Kamada-san, the failure of i-Mode to have a significant market impact in these regions can be explained by looking at how carefully DoCoMo controlled the Japanese market, where it held sway over handset manufacturers and was able to subsidise expensive handsets and other aspects of the business.