Dutch mobile firm KPN Mobile plans to launch shortly its i-mode service in three European nations, NEC announced today.

The N21i will be unveiled at CeBit 2002, to be held in Hannover from 12 March.

NEC has received its first order from Dutch KPN Mobile for handsets supporting the Japan-dominating i-mode wireless service.

Japan's largest mobile-telecommunication company, NTT DoCoMo, licensed the i-mode system to KPN Mobile in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as its German subsidiary, E-Plus.

The services are expected to roll out in March or April in the Netherlands and Germany, followed shortly by Belgium.

KPN Mobile has been using NEC handsets as part of its i-mode trial in Europe, according to an NEC statement.

NEC will provide the N21i, a clam-shell-style mobile phone equipped with a 1.9in colour TFT (thin film transistor) LCD display, to the operators of i-mode services in each country.

The N21i has a similar design to NEC i-mode handsets sold in Japan, where NEC is top dog and holds the top market share, but there are however, some differences.

The European models will include a dual browser, which is compatible with both Compact HTML, the basic i-mode markup language, and WAP, which is already in widespread use throughout Europe. They will also support the GSM/GPRS (general packet radio service) network system used by KPN.

"It is going to be the first i-mode-enabled handset that will be released outside Japan," said Akiko Shikimori for NEC. "With this handset as a start, this will eventually lead to [NEC's] global expansion of its internet-enabled mobile-phone business. We are planning to provide handsets not only for the i-mode services outside Japan, but also for other wireless internet services and 2.5G and above services," she said.

Toshiba will also be providing handsets for the European service, according to Japanese press reports, though on Monday the company declined to comment on the matter.