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Morphing I-Mode Phones to Upstage 3G Debut

By Reed Stevenson

TOKYO (Reuters) – Hyper-fast third-generation mobile phones are coming to Japan in mid-2001, at least 18 months ahead of the rest of the world, but their landmark debut will be eclipsed by innovations in existing technology, analysts say.

Japan’s second-generation “2G” phones, including NTT DoCoMo (news – web sites)’s (9437.T) popular ‘i-mode’ Web-linked service, already offer Internet access, business card-sized color screens and an array of organizer functions, and more advances are planned for the first half of next year.

“The best scenario for DoCoMo would be to extend i-mode’s popularity,” said Tsubasa Securities analyst Motoharu Sone.

I-mode has attracted 16.8 million users in its brief 22-month history and is still growing at the breakneck pace of 40,000 to 50,000 new subscribers each day.

Still available only in Japan, i-mode has vast potential for global growth, analysts say, since European and U.S. carriers have had little success luring a wide user base to Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), a competing standard.

By contrast, analysts and industry players say that advanced 3G, despite eye-popping features such as full-motion video and CD-quality sound, looks poised for a subdued debut.

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