While the U.S. and Europe have been quibbling about the proper formats for Net phones, Japan's biggest mobile telephone company, NTT Docomo, launched its Internet service for cell phones called "i-mode" in February 1999, and since then has attracted about seven million subscribers to Net phone services. Other telecom carriers have enlisted about three million subscribers.
Accessing the Net over cell phones has become the No. 1 access point for the Internet in Japan, making the Japanese Net market dramatically different from other major Internet markets.
The i-mode service allows users to access stripped-down pages on the World Wide Web, send and receive e-mail, as well as tap into a variety of interactive services, such as online banking, restaurant guides, news headlines and even daily cartoon strips.
The typical i-mode phone weighs less than four ounces and has a slightly larger LCD display than a typical cell phone. It can accommodate about six to 10 lines of text. Above the number key pad is a button marked "i," which accesses the service, along with other buttons for navigation.
The top of the line hand sets fold in half like a clam and offer color displays, voice recognition functions and a plug-in keyboard for writing longer e-mail messages.
Subscriptions for i-mode service cost $2.80 and NTT Docomo estimates that an option that allows users to phone to numbers displayed on Internet sites adds on average about $9.40 to $18.80 a month in phone fees.
The No. 2 Net phone service in Japan is from Nippon Ido Tsushin Corp., which is based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) format. IDO has enlisted about two million subscribers to its service.
The number of Internet users in Japan is about 27 million, while the number of mobile phone subscribers has reached 56.8 million, more than the 55.4 million land phone subscribers.
Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.