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Japan's I-mode bound for Britain

U.K., Ireland and Germany to get leading Japanese technology via British operator mmO2.

U.K. mobile operator mmO2 has announced that it's reached an agreement with NTT DoCoMo to offer the Japanese company's I-mode mobile Internet service on its network.

The operator will make I-mode available to its 22 million customers in the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland using handsets based on 2G, 2.5G and 3G technology. Users will be able to access games, online shopping, messaging services, downloads and content updates through the platform, which is currently used by 45 million people worldwide.

MmO2 is hoping that the addition to its portfolio will drive average revenue per user.

Peter Erskine, mmO2's chief executive officer, said the operator had taken into account the rise in average revenue per user that other licensees in Europe had experienced before it decided to partner with DoCoMo.

The British carrier has said it plans to introduce the service in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the second half of 2005, with the German launch to follow in spring 2006.

When the U.K. service goes live, it will sit side by side with mmO2's homegrown content portal, O2 Active, which, according to the mobile company, has 3 million users.

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at research company Ovum, said the move could end up as a double-edged sword for mmO2.

For mmO2, "It's cheaper to build up a cutting-edge portfolio...through I-mode than it is through O2 Active...(which) does lag behind in several key areas such as video," Zoller said. "It's a good strategic move."

However, she added that with I-mode and O2 Active both competing side by side for consumers' attention and cash, it may be O2 Active that loses out.

"It's a very tricky balancing act," she said. "If O2 Active isn't working hard--I wonder if it might disappear over time."

Jo Best of reported from London.