Japan’s DoCoMo to end i-mode service in 2026

DoCoMo is preparing 5G initiatives at various events, such as the Tokyo International Film Festival. (Pixabay)

Marking the end of an era, NTT DoCoMo announced on Tuesday that it will end its i-mode service, an internet-capable mobile phone system that was introduced in 1999, but has since been eclipsed by smartphones of the Apple iPhone and Google Android variety.

The i-mode service was leading-edge at the time it was launched, ahead of the U.S., where the industry was focused on WAP-based services.

The i-mode service enjoyed a successful run in Japan, which developed its own proprietary technology that did not transition well outside the country. But it also was a closed system, whereby consumers did not get the full internet but an i-mode version of it.

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The operator said it will end the i-mode service at the end of March 2026. The move isn’t surprising given the declining number of contracts and the allocation of more corporate resources to 5G. The operator already suspended subscriptions for new 3G voice services.

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The company launched pre-commercial 5G service in some locations in Japan on Sept. 20 using three spectrum bands: 3.7 GHz, 4.5 GHz and 28 GHz. Service was available for the Rugby World Cup, where it provided experiences such as real-time multi-angle viewing using 5G smartphones to coincide with the event, according to a presentation by NTT DoCoMo President and CEO Kazuhiro Yoshizawa.

Other 5G services include remote monitoring, including an autonomous driving tractor, and remote golf lessons using image analysis tools in cooperation with PGA. Going forward, DoCoMo is preparing 5G initiatives at various events, such as the Tokyo International Film Festival, with 5G commercial services set to launch by next spring. More than 10,000 engineers are involved in DoCoMo’s 5G deployment, he said.

Plans call for deploying 5G base stations throughout 47 prefectures by June 2020, and by the end of June 2021, the carrier expects to have built out 10,000 5G base stations.

The company, which reported its latest financial results this week, has about 79.2 million mobile subscribers and a handset churn rate of 0.46%.  

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