29 August 2002 Toshiba, the Japanese electronics giant, is poised to make a surprising if belated entry into the European mobile phone market.
The company had planned to wait until the launch of third-generation (3G) mobile networks before entering the market. But delays in the roll out of those networks have persuaded the company to bring forward the European launch with a new batch of second-generation handsets for Netherlands-based network operator KPN Mobile.
Alan Thompson, Toshiba Information Systems’ UK managing director, said the company’s plan is to release an i-mode handset in the Netherlands between now and the end of November 2002. Other devices will be rolled out in other European markets in following months, but Thompson declined to elaborate.
Toshiba acknowledges that its entry into an increasingly saturated market, which is dominated by Nokia, Motorola, Siemens and SonyEricsson, does not in itself herald a shift in the balance of power in Europe’s wireless industry. “I don’t think we are going to dent Nokia’s place as number one,” admitted Thompson.
The Toshiba handsets will carry Japanese i-mode technology – the mobile Internet protocol stack developed by Japan’s biggest operator, NTT DoCoMo, that has been a massive success in its home market as a mechanism for information delivery. I-mode offers closer compatibility with the Internet than initial versions of Europe’s alternative wireless application protocol (WAP).
KPN Mobile, whose shareholders include NTT DoCoMo, is set to become the first European operator to launch i-mode services. Toshiba’s Japanese rival NEC will also supply KPN Mobile with i-mode handsets.
I-mode’s success in Japan has left operators in Europe facing a dilemma: should they stick with the struggling WAP standard, backed by major European vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson, or drop WAP and support the Japanese alternative instead?
There have been suggestions that the major European manufacturers exerted heavy pressure on their operator customers to stick with WAP.