J-Phone users to gain access to rival I-mode service

Users of J-Phone Communications' J-Sky wireless Internet service can now browse content designed for the rival I-mode service using their J-Sky handsets.

J-Phone's parent company Japan Telecom Co. Ltd. started a service, I-watcher, on Wednesday that translates content from I-mode sites into a format accessible to J-Sky users.

Japan Telecom has provided access to 150 free I-mode sites through the service so far. By the first quarter of 2002, it plans to increase the number of accessible sites to 500, including subscription sites, the company said in a statement.

As of the beginning of August, NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s I-mode service had 1,820 official Web sites for its users, compared to 841 Web sites available for J-Sky users, according to the two companies.

I-watcher is a response to J-Sky users' demands, half of whom want to browse I-mode content, said Masaaki Kamimura, a spokesman for Japan Telecom.

Users must register to receive the service, which costs 100 yen (US$0.84) per month. Japan Telecom hopes I-watcher will attract 10,000 subscribers this year, the company said.

J-phone handsets are not compatible with I-mode's content mark-up language, Compact HTML: J-Sky is based on MML (multimedia markup language). To overcome this, Japan Telecom developed software in partnership with Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to translates Compact HTML into MML, Kamimura said.

Using this same technology, Japan Telecom launched the J-Web By ODN service in July, allowing fixed-line telephones with an LCD (liquid crystal display) to connect to the Internet and browse J-Sky and I-mode content.

J-Phone, 46-percent owned by British cell phone operator Vodafone Group PLC, is Japan's third-largest mobile telecommunication carrier. The company is striving to surpass KDDI Corp.'s mobile unit Au, which holds the second-largest share in the market.

Japan Telecom hopes the I-watcher service will prevent current J-Sky users from switching to other carriers and also attract new subscribers, Kamimura said.

As of the end of July, NTT DoCoMo had 25 million I-mode subscribers, Au had 7.9 million for its EZweb service and J-Phone had 7.5 million J-Sky subscribers, according to the Telecommunications Carriers Association.

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