Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

"Big in Japan" - iMode and the Mobile Internet

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

"Big in Japan" - iMode and the Mobile Internet

Article excerpt



As technologies for networking and mobile telephony have begun to converge, a new channel has recently emerged for electronic commerce - the mobile Internet. In many countries the adoption of wireless Internet technology by consumers has been slow, typified by the poor reception of wireless application protocol (WAP) in Europe and the US. However, looking further afield the situation is very different. In Japan, the number of wireless Internet subscribers has grown phenomenally, driven by the mobile Internet services provided by NT DoCoMo. In particular, the high-quality services and sophisticated technological platform provided by iMode has captured a huge market share and the rest of the world's attention. This has provided a potentially powerful stage for electronic commerce. This paper examines the nature of the Mode phenomenon and the future implications for this service platform.


The Internet has proven to be an easy and efficient way of delivering a wide variety of services to millions of 'wired' users; as of November 2000, the estimated number of Internet users stood at 407.1 million (Nua Internet Surveys 2000). Not only do the services themselves attract people, but also the convenient way of accessing them via an Internet browser; under most circumstances the same services can be used all over the world - as long as one has access to an appropriately configured personal computer and the Internet.

Throughout the 1990s, another technology that has played an increasingly important role in society is the mobile phone. Again, this is a technology in an age where time is short and the weight attached to convenience is very high. From a saturation of only 8 percent in 1995, more than half of the UK population now own a mobile phone (Wearden 2001). Similar patterns can also be seen in the US, Germany and most other developed countries. In some places, such as some parts of Scandinavia and Hong Kong, the saturation of mobile phone ownership is now in excess of 80 percent (Fernandez 2000). Furthermore, the diffusion of mobile technology is likely to continue well into this decade. By 2003, the global number of cellular phone users is forecast to exceed one billion (Cahners In-Stat Group 2000).

The above technologies once followed very separate paths, but evidence now suggests that they are entering an era of partnership. The convergence of the Internet and wireless technologies is fuelling expectations of growth in wireless data services and a proliferation of business applications of the wireless Internet. Applications include games, email, banking, share trading, travel, news feeds and shopping. Indeed, the mobile platform has tremendous potential for electronic commerce, tailored to the preferences and context of the individual. The commercial value of this new revenue stream is predicted to be very significant. Worldwide, mobile (m-) commerce revenues are expected to exceed $200 billion by 2004 (Strategy Analytics 2000).

Interestingly, one country in particular has rapidly adopted the wireless Internet like no other - Japan. While the US grapples with its fragmented set of mobile network and service standards (Varshney 2000) and Europe experiences the very slow adoption of the wireless Internet based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) (Reuters 2000), the diffusion of wireless data services in Japan has been phenomenal. In February 2001, Japan had 31.6 million mobile Internet users, two-- thirds using the iMode platform (Mobile Media Japan 2001).

Although WAP is hailed as the de facto global standard for wireless information and telephony services on digital mobile phones and other wireless terminals (AU System 1999), clearly it is iMode that takes the lead in terms of the number of wireless Internet users. The iMode platform, based on Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), provides a compelling alternative to WAP. …

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