„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.
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.
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.
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.