i-Mode means “information mode” and refers to a type of Internet-enabled mobile phone service that is currently available in Japan from NTT DoCoMo, the world’s largest cellular provider. With the push of a button, i-mode connects users to a wide range of online services, many of which are interactive, including mobile banking, news and stock updates, telephone directory service, restaurant guide, and ticket reservations.

The i-mode phones also feature the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which provides encryption for the safe transmission of personal information such as credit card and bank account numbers.

All services are linked directly to the DoCoMo i-mode portal Web site. Content can be accessed virtually instantly simply by pushing the cell phone’s dedicated i-mode button. Once connected, users also can access hundreds of other i-mode sites via standard Web addresses. Since i-mode is based on packet data transmission technology, users are charged only for how much information they retrieve, not by how long they are online.

Customers can access many different kinds of content, including news, travel, information, database services, and entertainment. In addition, i-mode can be used to exchange e-mail with computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other i-mode cellular phones. In Japan, the e-mail address is simply the cellular phone number followed by @docomo.ne.jp. And since i-mode is always active, e-mails are displayed automatically when they arrive.

Initially, the transmission speed was only 9.6 kbps, but this increased to 28.8 kbps in mid-2002. The next phase in development is underway with the company’s introduction of first third-generation (3G) wireless service, which delivers data between 64 and 384 kbps. At these rates, it is possible to deliver music or video over wireless networks. Restaurant location programs also are able to deliver threedimensional maps of the restaurant that describe the ambiance.

The i-mode service was launched in February 1999, and by mid-2002, the number of subscribers exceeded 30 million. Over 800 companies provide information services through imode. In addition, there are over 38,000 i-mode Web sites that offer content to mobile phone users. This makes i-mode a worthy contender to the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), which is used by almost 22 million users worldwide.

The primary reason for i-mode’s growing success is its simplicity. Unlike the WAP, which provides access to Web content from cell phones in the United States, content providers catering to the i-mode market can use standard HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to develop their Web sites.

The Web sites are linked to DoCoMo’s i-mode portal, where users go automatically on hitting the cell phone’s dedicated i-mode button. An i-mode cell phone typically weighs less than 4 ounces, has a comparatively large liquid-crystal display, and features a four-point navigation button that moves a pointer on the display.

The i-mode platform also supports Java technology. Java supports stand-alone applications that can be downloaded and stored, eliminating the need to continually connect to a Web site to play video games, for example. Java also supports agent-type applications for constantly changing information, such as stock quotes, weather forecasts, and sports scores, that can be updated automatically at set times by the agent.

i-Mode services are now available in the United States. AT&T Wireless’ mMode service is based on the i-mode technology developed by Japan’s NTT DoCoMo. mMode provides consumers with a variety of communication, information, and entertainment services. The services include e-mail, news, weather, sports, and games.

Pricing is based on volume of data, with plans starting at $2.99 per month. The service works over the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network of AT&T Wireless using cell phones that are specifically designed to support i-mode. Other thin application environments include Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless BREW) from Qualcomm, Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) from Sun Microsystems, and the WAP from the WAP Forum.