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(Nikkei BP Group)

(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)

  • New iMode Service Promotes Electronic-Commerce in Japan
  • March 15, 1999 (TOKYO) — After NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. (NTT DoCoMo) began offering its iMode service on Feb. 22, electronic-commerce is becoming easier for Japanese users of mobile phones.
    With a proprietary mobile phone designed for the iMode-based services, users can engage in such services as bank transfers, stock trading, making hotel/ticket reservations, searching for restaurants and playing games.

    A total of 67 companies are iMode information providers (IPs), according to NTT DoCoMo.

    They represent an array of businesses, including 21 banks. Other participants are securities companies, life insurance companies, credit card companies, airlines, newspaper and book publishers, toy makers and others. And for IPs, NTT DoCoMo’s 21 million mobile phone users are very attractive.

    Mobile Phone Becomes Tool for Variety of Services

    “People have their mobile phones switched on all the time. It is becoming a lifeline in our daily life, and demand for EC is becoming stronger each day,” said Kouji Ohboshi, chairman of NTT DoCoMo.

    “With the iMode services, NTT DoCoMo can meet such demand, and we are preparing to add new features,” he added.

    An iMode-compliant terminal can display data on a 6-character x 8-line format on its liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor equipped with a text browser. The volume of text for display is fairly limited, but the terminal does allow users to easily engage in searches or reserve tickets.

    The terminal employs a 9,600bps packet communication system, and for billing, the charges depend on data volume. The fixed monthly charge is 300 yen (120.61 yen = US$1) and the usage fee is 0.3 yen per packet (or 128 bytes).

    When the users make bank transfers or reservations, they pay about 20 to 30 yen per transaction. The cost of such transactions could be reduced if the input format is simplified.

    Keiichi Enoki, manager of NTT DoCoMo’s Gateway Business, estimates that the mobile phone market will eventually have 60 million users, of which a third will be potential iMode users. Enoki said that iMode will likely have 2 million to 3 million users at the end of the initial year and 10 million users in three years.

    NTT DoCoMo categorizes the iMode service content into four systems. They are “Transactions” for mobile banking and various types of reservations; “Lifestyle” for news updates and weather forecasts; “Database” for restaurant retrieval systems and transportation information; and “Entertainment” for games and horoscopes.

    Portal sites are set up for iMode users to access each of the category-based information types. “The services can satisfy 70 to 80 percent of the user needs,” Enoki said.

    Transaction Services Most Suitable with iMode

    A total of 42 IP companies are providing transaction-related services, which are expected to spearhead the iMode services. Mobile banking is widely perceived as a “killer application.”

    Among the banks that are participating in the service, four are making available fund depositing and transfers from the initial stage. They are Sakura Bank Ltd., Sanwa Bank Ltd., Sumitomo Bank Ltd. and Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank Ltd.

    Also, the service allows stock transactions. Daiwa Securities Co., Ltd. and Nikko Securities Co., Ltd. are participating in the service as the IPs. Users can trade stocks, obtain stock price updates, observe market conditions, and refer to their balances.

    The travel service comes in handy, too. The service handles domestic and overseas trips. With a mobile phone, a user can secure transportation tickets and make hotel reservations.

    For the airline ticket reservation service, Japan Airlines Co., Ltd., All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. and Japan Air System Co., Ltd. are IPs.

    Reservations for concerts and theater tickets also will attract interest. PIA Corp., Lawson Ticket Inc. and SS Communications Inc. are participating in the service. Lawson Ticket enables users to reserve tickets on the iMode screen.

    As the only service for product sales, Kinokuniya Co., Ltd. will offer the same service as its electronic bookstore called Book Web (http://bookweb.kinokuniya.co.jp/).

    Various News Services Available

    News headlines delivered by five newspaper companies are expected to play a main role in the lifestyle information-related service. The Yomiuri Shimbun is delivering a large volume of news content, updating a set of six news stories (50 characters per story) about three times a day. It provides sports news, English-language news from “The Daily Yomiuri” and stock prices from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. And it provides an optional service that makes available baseball and other scores and horse racing data as well as real-time stock-price information. The additional charge for the service is 200 yen.

    Weathernews Inc. will enable users to retrieve weather information for 75 cities around the world, in addition to local forecasts. Furthermore, it plans to include a fee-based service covering spot weather news, weather columns, typhoon information and other updates.

    City Information Easily Available

    Among the contents of the Database service, Toshiba Corp.’s “Ekimae Tanken Club” (Adventure Club) will likely become popular. The service features such information as subway transfers, area information near train stations, horoscopes, spot weather forecasts and business trip tips. Users are not required to pay for searches.

    For the database-related service, PIA will provide a restaurant search. Users can retrieve information on a total of 5,000 restaurants located in the Kanto, Kansai and Chubu regions. Upon finding a suitable restaurant, they can use the “Phone-to” feature to call the restaurant for a reservation.

    Games and Horoscope Available

    The iMode services are not limited to business or practical uses, as entertainment services are available as well.

    Bandai Co., Ltd. is planning quiz games at a monthly charge of 300 yen. The company is devising quizzes that are timely. It won’t give immediate answers so that users will have to wait until the next week or next month.

    “Bandai hopes to attract 3 percent of the iMode subscribers,” an official at the company’s development unit said.

    If NTT DoCoMo’s goal of 10 million users in three years is realized, Bandai will have 300,000 members, bringing in annual revenues of more than 1 billion yen.

    Horoscope information has been well accepted over the Internet and is expected to create another demand driver through the iMode service. Three IPs are planning to implement the service at an additional monthly charge of 100 yen to 170 yen.

    Related story:
    ¥New Non-PC Network Services Appear in Japan
    ¥NTT DoCoMo to Offer Banking, Ticketing Via Cellular Phones
    ¥Bandai to Launch Network Game Service on Mobile Phones

    (Nikkei Multimedia)

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