Mobile network operator O2 has completed a deal with Japan's NTT DoCoMo which will allow it to market 3G rival i-Mode services in the UK, Germany and Ireland.
I-Mode offers similar functions to 3G but is a proprietary system developed by NTT. The service has been in operation since 2000 and has 45 million subscribers, although the vast majority of these are in Japan.
However, industry insiders questioned the move, which raises the prospect of a standards war between i-Mode and 3G, made more complex by NTT's 2G i-Mode services, branded FeliCa, which are just coming online.
"I would have thought O2's efforts should be on its 3G launch," said Chris Jones, senior analyst at Canalys.
"It does seem surprising that there are operators launching these kind of services now that 3G is taking off.
"Vodafone will be looking to move people over from GPRS to 3G so there will be increased price competition against i-Mode, and 3 offers one of the cheapest voice deals out there."
Although i-Mode has slower data transfer speeds than 3G it can offer similar levels of content handling capability and security.
Recent trials have also shown that i-Mode phones can be used as electronic 'wallets' to pay for goods and services.
Peter Erskine, chief executive at O2, said: "Following the recent success of i-Mode elsewhere in Europe, and its growing subscriber base, we have conducted a thorough evaluation of the opportunities offered by licensing this technology."
O2 is due to launch services in the second half of next year.
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