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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Content Servers and Service Providers

It is assumed that you want to create an i-mode Web site, so this section presents some factors you should consider from the start. Note that although this section discusses factors unique to i-mode, as well as more generally to any mobile Web site, it is assumed that you are also familiar with how to build a wired Web site.


For a solid review of what is involved with building a regular Web site, check out HTML 4 Unleashed, Second Ed., by Rick Darnell, Sams Publishing, October 1998.

Planning an i-mode Site

The first question to consider is "What's the aim?" People build i-mode Web sites for, generally speaking, two reasons. The first is to earn subscription revenue by becoming an official content partner with the i-mode network operator. The second is to use the power of the mobile Internet to promote, market, or advertise a company's products or services.

In the first case, a direct business proposition exists for building the site, and the budget can be based on predicted revenues. In the second, little or no direct business proposition exists, and the cost of building and operating the site is charged against the organization's marketing or other budget. Note that some third-party billing solutions are available on i-mode in Japan, and it is expected that this and other sources of revenue will become more important. These solutions include e-commerce revenues, banner and email ad revenues, and site sponsorship fees.

Regardless of the aim, you have to consider some of these questions:

  • What systems exist in-house?

  • Will an intranet be connected through the Web server?

  • How many page views are expected each day?

  • Will there be any sort of e-commerce or banner ads?

  • Is the site mission critical for any aspect of the organization's business?

  • What are the hardware requirements (processor, storage, Net connection, connection to i-mode Gateway Server center)?

  • How knowledgeable is the staff?

  • Does management understand and support the i-mode effort?

Web and Mail Servers

After the questions in the preceding section have been answered, you should have a pretty clear idea of what you want the site to achieve. If your organization has a Web site already, launching an i-mode version can be as simple as setting up a separate directory on your existing server. (Note that i-mode makes no provision for File Transfer Protocol, Network News Transfer Protocol, or any services other than HTTP and SMTP.)

If you intend to provide mailing-list services, mail-based marketing, or mail notifications, any of the popular listserve packages work fine. Lyris, one of the better solutions, enables database-based marketing to mobile clients (http://www.lyris.com).

A plethora of platform–server mixes are in use today. If you plan to build a Web server from scratch, the tight i-mode compatibility with popular software is a major factor in keeping down costs—for hardware, software, and staff. For a comprehensive survey of the most popular Web servers and platforms, access http://www.netcraft.com/survey.


Although an i-mode site can be hosted by an outside ISP, keep in mind that successful i-mode sites capitalize on mobile users' frequent use of the Net. Therefore, the content, services, or applications you intend to provide will have to be updated frequently—at least daily and preferably more often. If your remote server access is in any way limited, and uploading site updates is in any way cumbersome, you might consider hosting in-house from the start.

Server-Side Scripting

Although no support exists for client-side scripting (such as with JavaScript, ActiveX, or VBScript) on the i-mode MS (other than Java—see the following section), your site can make use of server-side scripting, including CGI, ASP, PHP, and Web mail. Your i-mode Web site pages can use the <Form> tag to return subscriber input data. Note that i-mode phones do not send or receive HTTP header data, but if you're working on server-side applications, you don't need to worry about that; the i-mode Application Layer Protocol strips out the data.


Like to play Hangman? Access a simple script-implemented version on the J@pan Inc magazine i-mode Web site at http://www.japaninc.com/i.

Java and i-appli

NTT DoCoMo's January 2001 launch of Java-enabled phones (under the i-appli brand name) gave i-mode a big boost in terms of application development. First out the gate were a number of midlet (applications created for the Java Mobile Information Device Profile) games, including six-player Tetris, plus several consumer-targeted applications, such as real-time stock quotes, map navigation, and weather forecasts.

Java is also a huge revenue earner for NTT DoCoMo. As of September 2, 2001, some 6,050,000 Java-enabled 503i-series handsets had been sold. Java-using i-moders were generating approximately 400–450 packets per day in network usage, according to some industry analysts, creating an additional $1 per day in packet fees per user.

The DoCoMo 503i-series phones feature the Sun J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) and makes use of a KVM (virtual machine) and a DoCoMo–proprietary set of class libraries customized for each maker's handset models. J2ME requires at least a 16-bit, 16MHz processor and 128-256KB of memory. At launch, DoCoMo limited the download size to 10KB (the phones additionally have a 5KB scratch pad). One Tokyo Java developer, Dwango, has created a multiplayer RPG named Samurai Romanesque, which can accommodate as many as 500,000 players (see Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4 Players of Dwango's Java-based Samurai Romanesque choose to be a character from old Japan, including Foot Soldier, Samurai Chief, or General. Real-time weather updates from the Japan Weather Association are built into the game, so if it's (really) raining, your character might not be able to use firearms. (Copyright© Dwango Co. Ltd. Used by permission.)

Security Issues

For official content and service partners that provide mobile content and services directly to the i-mode GRIMM gateway by a leased line or other private connection, the system can be made relatively secure. On the other hand, non-official i-mode sites had little security before the start of Java, which helped limit any significant enterprise use (other than for voice).

Now, Java is available as an optional module on the Access browser and provides a powerful security boost at the session and application layers that should help enable the deployment of real-world e-commerce applications based on credit card billing. Access to intranets and corporate email should likewise see a big boost. Make sure that the MSs being used on other i-mode networks are indeed SSL-enabled (not all now used on i-mode in Japan are).

Building an i-mode Site

Assuming that you have your i-mode site planned out, you should understand how considerations of subscriber use, maintenance, and scalability affect your operation.

User Mobility

The first and fundamental concept to understand is that i-mode is not the Web. Visitors are not accessing the site to enjoy a rich, graphical online experience—the screen is just too small for that. This situation will change as the MS becomes more sophisticated and the PDA merges with the phone.

But i-mode is an excellent way to provide text- and (limited) graphics-based services to mobile users. These users are downtown on foot, they're sitting in a train or bus, or they're out in a café or park. They're late for a meeting, they're lost, or they're looking for some interesting new shop, cinema, or gallery. Maybe they just want to kill some time or be entertained.

Furthermore, consider how your content and services can be used at different times of the day, in short periods (a few seconds to several minutes), shared between friends, and leveraged with voice (the device is, after all, a telephone). How can your i-mode site provide a valuable service to the archetypal subscriber? Some ideas are listed in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2—Mobilizing Content, Applications, and Services


Mobilized Version Includes

News, sports, information

Hourly alerts based on user-selected headline keywords, real-time sports scores by email, facts-of-the-day delivered from database.

Directories, guides, search

Town information, company and business address lookup (with map display), access to local government offices (by Web or voice), guided walking tours of popular and historical sites.

Shopping, bookings, ordering, services

Mobile reservations—including for videos or for personal services, like a haircut or sports massage—and book or CD shopping, for example. (What about looking up a wine shop and then calling to ask the store to hold a bottle of Beaujolais?)

Entertainment, ticketing, travel

Ticket reservations, concert guides, DJ club schedules, travel itineraries (while traveling).

Banking, online trading, financial services

Check balances, bill payments, bond purchases, stock price alerts, and fund transfers.

Access files

Ringing melodies, sound files, graphics files, karaoke, access to Web drives, browsable photo albums.

Games, contests, marketing, promotions

Games that can be played a few minutes at a time (but many times per day), contest entries, prize announcements, survey results.

Chat, instant messaging, dating, matchmaking

Meeting new friends, posting personal ads, flirting, or organizing a party at a club or restaurant.

The services that can be offered are dictated in part by handset hardware capabilities and whether the MS is capable of SSL sessions and accepting cookies, for example.

Traffic Patterns and Scalability

Site owners in Japan have found that traffic patterns are somewhat different from those on the Internet at large. Peak hours tend to be in the evenings, but sharp spikes also occur during the day—particularly around lunchtime and during commuting times. Sites that deploy innovative, useful services experience a rapid traffic buildup. Page views can go from the hundreds per day to the hundreds of thousands per day in just a few weeks. The effects of viral marketing and word-of-mouth can be very powerful on the mobile Net, and when a site has "buzz," it can receive lots of traffic very quickly.

Planning an i-mode site should include a thorough assessment of expected usage patterns of both the Web pages and any email services. One online broker in Tokyo deployed an email-based stock price alert service and quickly saw message traffic run to 150,000 messages per day!

Ensure that your site provides adequate disclosure with respect to the fact that the i-mode service can be unavailable if the operator's i-mode server goes down, something that is entirely beyond the mobile service provider's control. As one senior consultant working at a European wireless engineering company explained, "Gateways are expensive. The hardware to run them is expensive too—it's telecom grade stuff—and needs to be available for a fantastic proportion of the time." In other words, make sure your subscribers won't blame you for a gateway failure.

The term telecom grade typically refers to "five-nines availability," meaning that a system is available for 99.999 percent of planned uptime. As mentioned previously, the DoCoMo i-mode network has suffered service outages, and in mid-2000, the company said that it would establish additional servers in Yokohama and near Osaka.


In one incident in March 2000, i-mode, which then had some 6.5 million users, experienced a three-hour outage, which was reported on the news that evening. The report hastened a second outage as legions of news-watching users logged on more or less simultaneously to see whether they had been affected by the first.

Service Providers

i-mode clearly offers, for the first time, the chance to earn revenue for content, applications, and services provided via the Web. This phenomenon might not be totally divorced from the post–2000 dot-com crash on the Internet at large, however. Also, the new phenomenon where services that were once offered free (online file storage, Web backup, MP3 download, and database access, for example) now come with a price tag. But i-mode provides the fastest way for a site owner to start earning revenue against the least investment.

Successful i-mode Sites

We mentioned earlier in this chapter that people build i-mode sites to earn revenue or to market services and products. The interesting aspect is that any business, from a one- or two- person startup shop to a multinational brand owner, can make use of the wireless Internet to meet these two goals. Table 3.3 provides a brief survey of successful i-mode sites developed in Japan and an assessment of why the site was launched.

Table 3.3—Who Builds i-mode Sites and Why

Site Builder



Rakuten Ichiba, owner of Japan's number-one online shopping portal

Earn revenue: Sales via its i-mode site reached some JPY70 million ($583,000) in December 2000, equaling some 2% of Rakuten's monthly online sales of JPY3.54 billion ($29.5 million).

Email advertising sent to i-mode subscribers plays a big role.

Tsutaya Online, a major video rental chain.

Boost rentals: The company says that about half those who clicked on an email link ad took action within three hours after receipt of the email; 80% reacted within half a day.

This i-mode site is a big differentiating factor in gaining new customers.

Senshukai Co., Ltd., a mail-order house

Earn revenue: Users can order products from a catalog by entering a code number shown beside each item; some 90% of users are in their 20s or 30s.

More than 80% of the i-mode site users order only from their phone (they don't use the wired Web version).

@cosme, a community site offering evaluations of cosmetic products by consumers

Marketing and surveys: Users can submit their opinions on cosmetics and search for product evaluation data. Cosmetics makers use the data for product development; makers can also conduct market research and send questionnaires.

The site receives more than 100 comments and evaluations per day.

HMV Japan

Earn revenue: Customers can search for and purchase more than 700,000 items.

i-mode sites are ideal for selling items such as books, CDs, DVDs, and tapes.

Integrated Services

Any business-focused i-mode site must be tightly integrated with other electronic and offline channels. An i-mode Web site is merely one additional channel for reaching a customer and is complementary to (regular) Web, call center, bricks and mortar, or other channels used to establish customer contact or provide services and products.

As shown in Table 3.3, Rakuten uses its i-mode site to leverage an existing Web portal, the Tsutaya video chain uses i-mode to encourage more customers to visit its (extensive) chain of bricks-and-mortar rental shops, and Sensukai uses i-mode to boost its print catalog business. Furthermore, the creation of any commercial i-mode site requires coordination between the engineering and non-technical branches of a company, including marketing, advertising, and sales and strategy divisions.

As i-mode operators (NTT DoCoMo in Japan, AT&T in the United States, and KPN and others in Europe) develop platform and portal partnerships, even more opportunities should arise for third-party mobile service providers to develop i-mode sales and marketing channels integrated with existing partnerships. For example, NTT DoCoMo has established platform partnerships with ISPs (AOL and Sony's So-Net, for example), ASPs (Payment First—a NTT DoCoMo– Microsoft joint venture and AirMedia, for example), content owners (many already mentioned), and broadcasters (including broadcast satellite and Webcasters), to name a few (see Figure 3.5).

Figure 3.5 DoCoMo i-mode platform partners as of December 2000. You can expect AT&T Wireless and KPN Mobile to develop similar arrangements.

Even if your organization doesn't see a compelling reason to port its products or services to i-mode, you might have opportunities to do so with one of the platform partners.

In this chapter, you've seen how i-mode grew from a Japan-specific confluence of factors related to government regulation, corporate pride, and the thirst for Internet access. Although these factors might be specific to Japan, little doubt exists that other i-modes can be equally successful by providing innovative, imaginative, and convenient services to mobile users elsewhere. To end this chapter, take an in-depth look at a case study of one U.S.-based company that is finding e-commerce gold on Japan's i-mode and is now well placed to export that know-how back to the United States.

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