i-mode dropped by O2 UK & Telstra

Today's a busy day, and here comes the next piece: we read that O2 UK will stop selling i-mode handsets from the end of this month, so that the service it licensed from NTT DoCoMo will probably soon come to an end. Elsewhere was reported that Australia's Telstra will close the service in December of this year.

O2 UK spent £10m in marketing which yielded a mere 260,000 users over the past 2 years. Telstra is believed to have gathered less than 60,000 followers of the service. Not impressive and only the last examples of i-mode's failures outside of Japan (and some pockets in Europe, namely with Bouygues in France and O2 in Ireland).

The woes continue as some other markets either pulled the service already or did not even launch it: following the disappointment in the UK and presumably closely monitoring the struggle of E-Plus O2 did not launch it in Germany. MTS Russia generated a mere $150,000 per month from it. In India, the launch on Hutchison Essar was pulled "in part" because Vodafone invested in the company. Exact numbers are hard to come by but as one does not hear booming statements of its overwhelming success, conclusions can probably be drawn...

What is it then that made i-mode such a success in Japan and such a failure nearly elsewhere? Is it the change of the mobile landscape with more and more operators abolishing usage-driven data charges, the general increase in bandwidth on phones which allows users to access more rich content more easily (this used to be an advantage of i-mode), or the lack of support from handset vendors (often cited)? It probably is a bit of everything really but quite possibly the old and overcome model of making money by letting the meter run: users outside of Japan are neither used to this anymore nor do they welcome it. And rightly so: the value is not in the time I spend browsing. The value is in a specific application, service, game, etc. Being charged for this would appear to be eminently sensible: I buy a product and I pay for it. Paying to use the pavement to go to the shop is less convincing as a concept.

Update: The International Tribune has an i-mode article here. It basically confirms the above but offers some additional viewpoints and quotes and such...


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