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Google to power I-mode wireless searches

Users of NTT DoCoMo's popular mobile Web service get their horizons expanded by more than a billion Web pages.

Users of NTT DoCoMo's popular mobile Web service just got their horizons expanded by more than a billion Web pages.

The company, which operates wireless Web service I-mode, announced Tuesday that it has gained the support from Web search engine Google. Google will support I-mode, allowing NTT DoCoMo's 19 million wireless subscribers to view the wired Web's entire montage of 1.3 billion Web pages through their cell phones.

Before the deal was announced, I-mode customers could view about 30,000 Web pages, according to Alan Riter, president of consulting firm Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing.

Analysts say the main question is whether anyone wants to replicate the experience of the wired Web on a cell phone. They say it's likely to be a smash in Japan because the cell phone is the Web-surfing tool of choice.

But in the United States, a similar deal could fall flat because most U.S. households already use PCs to surf the Web. As a result, wireless Web use has been slow to take off.

"The concept in the United States that the phone substitutes for the desktop Internet access is just a terrible model; it won't hang together," said George Lieberman, chief technology officer for technology investment firm Verus International.

Analysts expect more Japanese services to copy NTT DoCoMo, as U.S. telecommunications companies continue to grapple for a way to pick up sagging wireless Web usage.

"Japanese providers always piggyback on what DoCoMo does," said Nina Young, an associate analyst for Jupiter Research. "But what U.S. carrier is going to put up a search engine that helps people go beyond what's on their menu?"

NTT DoCoMo is on schedule to begin a new generation of services in May, Chairman Kouji Ohboshi said Tuesday. He predicts the company will be the first to bring the next-generation phones and their high-speed Internet access to the market place.

To make its search technology work for I-mode customers, Google said it has created a way to translate pages on the wired Web into the markup language that NTT DoCoMo uses.

Google CEO Larry Pages demonstrated the technology Tuesday at Demo Japan 2001.

The search service has done the same for WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), the language used by mostly North American phone customers to view Web pages.

This was the second customer win announced Tuesday for Google. Vizzavi, the joint Net venture of mobile communications company Vodafone and European media company Vivendi Universal, chose the company as its default search provider.