The migration of NTT DoCoMo’s customers from its 2.5G Mova network to the 3G FOMA service is well underway. There are now over 14m FOMA subscribers and Mova users are declining gradually as more and more customers make the switch. This trend is being driven by the completion of virtually nationwide 3G network coverage, better handsets and demand for 3G services.
In an attempt to further increase FOMA subscribers, which in Q1 2005 generated 47 percent more ARPU per month for NTT DoCoMo, the operator is launching a new range of handsets targeting a broader group of users. The 701i series and the i-Channel information service are designed specifically for users who are currently limiting their mobile activities to voice and email.
The handsets are small, lightweight and available in range of colours. One of them, the P701i (manufactured by Panasonic) was developed in collaboration with Japanese graphic designer Taku Sato. They are a distinct departure from the feature-rich and often confusingly complex 3G devices offered to existing FOMA subscribers – which can include everything from biometric fingerprint identification to camcorder-style video recording.
Each handset in the 701i series is designed specifically for i-Channel, a new, push-based information service. Content such as news, weather and horoscopes is automatically updated on the handset’s idle display every two hours, where it scrolls across the screen. Users can then select items of interest and connect to the network to download further information. DoCoMo is charging YEN 150 per month for the service, with additional charges for browsing the channels in detail.
i-Channel can also be accessed by pressing a dedicated hardware button, which displays the full list of content on the screen.
As with i-Mode, DoCoMo will open i-Channel to third party content providers, allowing them to list their information services on the portal and charge for content.
For DoCoMo this is all about encouraging new users to explore mobile data services. It will offer new subscribers a one week free trial of i-Channel to stimulate demand. The operator also believes the new model for accessing content, which pushes information to the user will be more effective than relying on users exploring the i-Mode portal on their own.
This is an excellent example of an operator recognising that certain customer segments require more than just different content – they need entirely different ways of accessing that content. i-Channel is the first instance of a major operator providing a truly differentiated data services experience for a range of customer groups, including dedicated handsets, software architecture and third party content relationships.
DoCoMo has published an interesting overview of i-Channel, which can be downloaded here (PDF format).