If numbers mean anything, the new Live! mobile camera and Internet messaging service launched by Vodafone Group PLC in Europe is racing ahead of the rival I-mode technology exported to the continent earlier last year by Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc.

Vodafone registered over 380,000 customers for its MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) in eight countries from Oct. 24 to Dec. 31, the company said Tuesday in a statement. In Germany alone, Live! attracted over 150,000 new customers.

Although an exact comparison isn’t possible, KPN Mobile NV had 142,000 I-mode registered users at its Dutch and German subsidiaries at the end of September, nearly six months after launching the service in Germany and five in neighbouring Netherlands.

KPN Mobile, in which DoCoMo has a stake, introduced I-mode in Europe through its subsidiary E-Plus Mobilfunk GmbH & Co. KG in March and in the Netherlands one month later. Base NV/SA, the Belgian subsidiary of KPN Mobile, launched the service in October, followed by Bouygues Telecom SA in November. Base and Bouygues haven’t released subscription figures.

The numbers have disappointed KPN Mobile board member Mark de Jong who said the company “has seen some hesitation in the market.” That’s a mild explanation for Europe failing to come even remotely close to the success of I-mode in Japan, with over 34 million subscribers.

Some analysts believe the window of opportunity in Europe is rapidly closing for DoCoMo.

In Germany I-mode, which doesn’t yet offer a camera phone feature, now faces competitive MMS services from two of Europe’s largest mobile phone companies, Vodafone and T-Mobile International AG, according to Neale Anderson, an analyst with London-based Ovum Ltd. I-mode, he said, blew early opportunities by entering the market with only one handset, which was not only too pricey but also too limited in its capabilities.

Nor was it helpful that the I-mode advertising campaign launched by E-Plus in Germany was “totally confusing,” said one source close to the company. “The campaign didn’t convey what I-mode was all about. It was a complete waste of money and cost E-Plus precious time in its efforts to position the service.”

Earlier this week, E-Plus announced a new I-mode advertising campaign.

Although Spain’s Telef