StarHub to offer news on cellphone - Oct 15, 2005 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

StarHub to offer news on cellphone

By Alfred Siew
Oct 15, 2005
The Straits Times

STARHUB cellphone users will soon be able to read The Straits Times and other newspapers on their little screens, with a mobile Internet service called i-mode, to be launched next month.

For the first time, entire editions of The Straits Times and Business Times will be available on the cellphone.

Chinese newspapers Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News, also published by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), will offer selected news articles. There is also a breaking news service, which offers live updates of events around the world.

Users pay a monthly subscription fee of between $3 and $5 for each service, which is charged to their phone bills.

News on the go was one of several features that StarHub unveiled with its content providers yesterday for its much-touted i-mode service.

The cellphone operator is bringing this service, already popular in Japan with 45 million users, to Singapore to jumpstart the sluggish mobile Internet market here.

Calling the i-mode service a 'shopping mall', StarHub's head of mobile services, Mr Chan Kin Hung, said people will be spoilt for choice for entertainment on the phone, with video downloads from MediaCorp and ringtones and games from MTV Networks Asia.

Users only have to tap on an 'i' button on the phone to go online, added Mr Chan.

To sign up for i-mode, however, users need compatible phones, most of which are currently made by Japanese manufacturers such as NEC.

These services can be accessed on both 2G and 3G handsets, with download costs similar to the current 1.05 cents per kilobyte.

Users can also book flights and perform banking operations on their i-mode phones. OCBC Bank, for example, will let users pay bills and transfer funds on the go.

The service is easy to use, said OCBC's head of delivery for group consumer financial services, Mr Patrick Chew, because people can use the same username and password they use to bank online on a PC. Users of i-mode can also book hotel rooms and flights on their phones by accessing the Zuji website.

OCBC and Zuji were among six content providers to provide live demos showing the ease of use and richness of the i-mode service.

Since its launch by Japan's top cellphone operator, NTT DoCoMo, in 1999, i-mode has spread to places such as France, Australia and Taiwan, attracting over five million users outside Japan.

Content for i-mode is easily available because many software developers are attracted by the higher returns. They often retain about 85 per cent of the revenue from a telecommunications company, compared with about 40 per cent for other content.

An analyst from research firm Gartner, Ms Eleana Liew, said StarHub's biggest test will be convincing users to switch from their Nokia and Motorola phones to new ones which have more, but unfamiliar, features. 'The first obstacle is to get people to buy the i-mode handsets, to get Singaporeans to accept lesser-known brands such as NEC or Sagem,' she noted.

StarHub is not alone in the content game. MobileOne users can now watch small-screen versions of Discovery Channel and MediaCorp TV with a new service called Watch-a-Video. Available from today, it sends short video clips to users who subscribe to the 3G cellphone service.

The videos run only on selected Nokia phones: the 6630, 6680, N90 and N70. The service is free until next month, after which users have to pay a monthly fee of between $2 and $5 per channel.