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Germany's i-mode Launch "A Stepping Stone to UMTS"

With the commercial launch this week by German operator E-Plus of its i-mode mobile Internet service, European customers can enjoy an early taste of the services and applications that will characterise third-generation UMTS networks.

Subscribers can access i-mode services on the E-Plus GPRS network, using GSM/GPRS terminals from NEC that will be joined later this year by handsets from other manufacturers. Access to content services is via a dual (WAP/i-mode) browser in the handset. The i-mode browser is based on i-html, a pre-version of WAP 2.0 which is expected in commercial handsets in early 2003. i-mode services will also be supported on the WAP 2.0 platform. The German operator has confirmed that tens of thousands of i-mode terminals will be available in E-Plus stores from launch, rising to more than 800,000 phones by this year end.

From launch, more than 60 service providers are offering over 500 pages of information formatted for i-mode; subscribers are billed for content on a per-service basis. E-plus parent company KPN Mobile has also confirmed that i-mode services will debut in The Netherlands in May, followed by launch in Belgium a month later.

"In launching i-mode on the GPRS platform, E-Plus is offering European consumers an early taste of the mobile multimedia experience that UMTS will deliver", notes UMTS Forum Chairman Dr Bernd Eylert. "As NTT DoCoMo has already demonstrated with the launch of its own UMTS service in Japan, the lure of exciting services - such as those already available with i-mode - gives mobile subscribers a powerful incentive to migrate to third-generation networks as they become more widely available."

KPN and E-Plus have licensed the technology to offer i-mode services from Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo who launched the world's first full commercial UMTS service under the FOMA brand late last year. Japanese FOMA subscribers enjoy high-speed access to a wealth of i-mode content spanning information, entertainment and business resources.

E-Plus, KPN and NTT DoCoMo are all operator members of the UMTS Forum.