Cultural Factors in Technical Development: „ i-mode“ in Japan and Germany

  • Project team:

    Weber, Arnd (Project leader); Bernd Wingert; Asae Yokoi

  • Funding:

    Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

  • Start date:


  • End date:


  • Project partners:

    The project is aiming at co-operation both with Japan researchers from Germany and with Japanese colleagues.

  • Research group:

    Innovation processes and impacts of technology

Project description

Projekt Theme

„i-mode“ is a data service for mobile communication. It has been developed by NTT DoCoMo and very successfully deployed. Since spring 2002 the mobile operator E-Plus in Germany offers a similar service, and a variant of it is provided by Vodafone. NTT DoCoMo is aiming at marketing i-mode on a global scale, thus facing different economic, regulatory and cultural contexts. The question arises whether this effort can be turned into a success.

Project objective

The aim of the project is to understand the Japanese i-mode success story, esp. the possible impact of any cultural factors. This will serve as the basis for „lessons learnt" applicable to the further development of mobile communications in Germany and Europe.

Research questions

The research questions pertain to i-mode itself, and methodological and organisational issues:

  • As far as i-mode is concerned the task is to understand how and why it became a success; and to what degree this is due to a highly specific innovation constellation within NTT DoCoMo. This necessitates to also understand the developments of the competitors KDDI and J-Phone (meanwhile Vodafone). The project will aim at qualitatively modelling these situations. But the reconstruction of past events is only one of the project's tasks, the others being to analyse what the current options are and how the development might evolve in the long run.
  • As far as the methodological questions are concerned the project has to be conceived of as a set of intercultural comparisons. Japan is an outstanding example where special precautionary measures have to be applied as far as the supposed impact of cultural factors is concerned. There are warnings, e.g., by German Japan researchers, against short-circuited hypotheses. The efficacy of those cultural factors is highly debated in research literature.
  • As far as the organisational questions are concerned, the project strives not only to include the Japanese research literature but also to co-operate with Japanese colleagues, as far as this is feasible, given the budgetary and time constraints.

Research approach

The approach of the project is social science-oriented innovation research, which will give due attention to technical as well as socio-economic and cultural aspects.


There is a rich tradition of research about Japan on a general level and about „i-mode“ in particular. This can be used and exploited by the project. Though having a limited budget, we aim at performing expert interviews both in Japan and in Europe. A special challenge is the qualitative modelling of the cultural factors, which may have an impact on an individual, group, or national level.

Funding and research team

The project is subsidized for one year by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the programme of „Innovation and Technology Analysis“ (ITA), which is a kind of technology assessment approach enriched by innovation questions. It is performed by the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the Research Centre Karlsruhe. The project team consists of Arnd Weber and Bernd Wingert. From the beginning the assistance of Ms. Asae Yokoi has been appreciated, a student of cultural sciences at the University of Mainz; she has grown up bilingually both in Germany and Japan.

Project description in Japanese

download here (PDF)


Book Chapters
Weber, A.
Mobile Datendienste in Japan und Deutschland. Kultur und Wettbewerb als Einflussfaktoren
2007. Technology Assessment in der Weltgesellschaft. Hrsg.: A. Bora, 165–176, edition sigma 
Book Chapters
Weber, A.; Wingert, B.
’i-mode’ in Japan: How to explain its development
2006. Governance of communication networks : Connecting societies and markets with IT. Ed.: B. Preissl, 309–332, Physica Verl. doi:10.1007/3-7908-1746-5_17
Journal Articles
Bohlin, E.; Weber, A.; Preissl, B.
How free is the radio spectrum?
2006. Info : the Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, Information and Media, 8 (2), 3–5 
Weber, A.; Wingert, B.
Mobile Datendienste in Japan und Deutschland - Lehren aus dem japanischen Markt
2006. Technikfolgenabschätzung, Theorie und Praxis, 15 (3), 80–86. doi:10.14512/tatup.15.3.80
Weber, A.
Mobile Internet in Germany: how to explain its lack of development
2006. 17th European Regional ITS Conf., Amsterdam, NL, August 22-24, 2006 
Science Communication on the Internet
Wingert, B.; Thissen, F.
Interkulturelles Interfacedesign und interkulturelle Kommunikation
2005. Moderatorenpapier für die AG1 der MMK2004 in Hamburg Abschlußbericht zur Arbeitsgruppe 1 ’Interkulturelles Interfacedesign’ der MMK 2004, Hamburg, 14.-17.November 2004 
Journal Articles
Weber, A.; Bohlin, E.; Lindmark, S.; Wingert, B.
Developments for 4G and European policy
2004. Info, (2004), 6 (6), 383–387. doi:10.1108/14636690410568650
Bohlin, E.; Ballon, P.; Björkdahl, J.; Burgelman, J.-C.; Lindmark, S.; Rodriguez, C.; Weber, A.; Wingert, B.
UMTS Integration and Framework Program Priorities
2004. IST Mobile Summit (2004), Lyon, France, June 27–30, 2004 
Weber, A.; Wingert, B.
Mobile data markets: are key success factors in Japan absent in Europe?
2004. NTT DoCoMo Euro-Labs (2004), Munich, Germany, December 20, 2004 
Weber, A.; Wingert, B.
Mobiles Internet in Japan: ökonomische, kulturelle und politische Erfolgsfaktoren
2004. “Zukunftsforum Mobiles Internet 2010 (2010), Bonn, Germany, September 14–15, 2004 
Rodriguez Casal, C.; Burgelman, J. C.; Carat, G.; Bohlin, E.; Lindmark, S.; Björkdahl, J.; Weber, A.; Wingert, B.; Ballon, P.
The future of mobile communications in the EU: Assessing the potential of 4G. An ESTO project report
2004. EUR 21192 EN (February 2004) 


Dr. Arnd Weber
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe