DoCoMo Bails on Hutchison 3G
By Carlo Longino, Thu May 27 16:00:00 GMT 2004

NTT DoCoMo announced today it's selling its stake in the UK 3G venture back to Hutchison Whampoa for GBP 120 million.

It's been rumored for a while that DoCoMo was looking to unwind its investment, following its pullouts and writedowns of other overseas investments. The deal will see Hutchison Whampoa pay DoCoMo in shares of Hutchison Telecommunications International Limited, a Hutch unit with stakes in operators in Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Israel, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Ghana and Macau that the parent company plans to spin off. DoCoMo paid 185.7 billion yen (about GBP 915 million at current exchange rates) for its 20 percent stake in 2000.

DoCoMo initially invested in 3 UK with hopes of using it to establish i-mode in that country, though 3 a couple years back decided it wouldn't use the technology -- a move that undoubtedly created a lot of friction between the two carriers. DoCoMo says now it will seek another i-mode partner in the UK, and is in talks with "several capable partners".

Orange would be the most likely incumbent carrier (though it's still hard to imagine), since the three others already have their own i-mode-like content services (Vodafone live!, T-Zones, O2 Active), not to mention Vodafone's direct competition with DoCoMo in Japan. But if DoCoMo is really talking to "several" possible partners, it's safe to assume its talking to MVNOs or potential virtual operators as well.

DoCoMo was quick to add that it wasn't necessarily looking to make an equity investment in any partner, and it could license i-mode technology on a royalty basis -- something that should make investors rest easier, given the company's recent massive writedowns of its investments.