NTT Docomo Inc said Tuesday it will stop services of i-mode, an internet-capable mobile phone system introduced in 1999, at the end of March 2026 due to the dwindling number of users.
As the world’s first mobile internet service at the time of launch, the i-mode allowed cell phone users to access the internet for emailing, web browsing, payments and shopping on specially-formatted websites.
It quickly became popular in Japan, providing access to a wide variety of services, including news, weather forecasts and ticket reservations, while making picture characters known as emoji a popular element of texting.
“Given the decline in the number of contracts and the allocation of more corporate resources to 5G (next-generation wireless networks), we have decided to end (i-mode) services,” NTT Docomo announced in a statement.
Since the service started in February 1999, domestic subscribers to i-mode topped 40 million in 2003 and peaked at 49 million in July 2010.
NTT Docomo aimed to export the technology overseas, but only managed a limited introduction in parts of Europe, partly because there were not many i-mode capable handsets available from major manufacturers, and the service was based on a closed system, which required content providers to follow the Japanese carrier’s rules strictly.
As Apple Inc.’s iPhone and other smartphones using Google LLC’s Android operating system quickly gained popularity, i-mode subscribers continued to decline, totaling 7.63 million as of the end of September this year, including contracts for devices installed on vending machines.