O2 seals i-mode data services deal for UK

O2 has sealed the deal to provide i-mode data services over its network in the UK, Ireland and Germany.

The 10-year licence agreement was already the subject of much speculation following i-mode operator NTT DoCoMo pulling out its investment in Hutchison 3G after it failed to launch i-mode in the UK.

A spokesperson for O2 said that most of the handset manufacturers were building i-mode compatible handsets, with Nokia due to come on board in the near future. O2 will offer around 30 handsets through which the service can be accessed, and these will be available from O2 directly as well as from retail and other channels.

The deal does not ring the death knell for O2’s existing data service O2 Active, which currently boasts some 3mn subscribers and about half the UK’s mobile data traffic. O2 plans to allow existing users of its O2 Active data services to access them through i-mode handsets, but O2 Active-only handsets will not be able to use i-mode services.

The spokesperson said that running the two services side by side is justifiable. Spain’s Telefonica Moviles currently has a similar set up. which increased Average Revenue Per User by between 4 and 8 Euros a month when i-mode was introduced. However, the spokesperson said that O2 expects ultimately there will be just two data services: Vodafone Live! and i-mode.

The network of i-mode services and sites will be managed jointly. Many of the content providers will be brought in by DoCoMo, although they will be country-specific.

The i-mode platform already offers thousands of content sites and is the world’s most popular mobile data platform with 45mn subscribers.

O2’s i-mode will launch in the UK and Ireland in the second half of next year, and in Germany in the spring of 2006.

Financial detail of the agreement is not available, although O2 said it pays an up front fee to DoCoMo as well as an ongoing royalty.

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