NTT DoCoMo, others quit AOL’s Japanese joint venture

NTT DoCoMo Inc. and three other companies that together owned almost 59 per cent of America Online Inc.’s Japanese unit have sold their stakes to the U.S. Internet service provider, they said Wednesday. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

NTT DoCoMo was the largest shareholder in DoCoMo AOL Inc. and held a 43.23 per cent stake. Trading company Mitsui & Co. Ltd. owned an 11.85 per cent stake; publisher Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc. had a 3.12 per cent stake, and its Nikkei BP affiliate owned 0.62 per cent of the company.

The withdrawal ends a partnership that has lasted just over three years but that has largely failed to deliver on its main objective of using the Japanese market as a testbed for a range of cross-over services that rely on both fixed and mobile Internet technology.

NTT DoCoMo’s investment in the company came at a time when the Japanese cellular carrier was receiving attention around the world for the success of its I-mode mobile Internet platform and AOL was riding high on the growth of the Internet and prospects for the future. Under the partnership, NTT DoCoMo allowed AOL subscribers to access their AOL mailbox from their mobile phone, and resold AOL subscriptions through its retail shops.

DoCoMo AOL has not managed to become a major player in the Japanese marketplace. The company declined to release subscriber figures for its Japanese unit, but sources say it has fewer than 1 million users. When the company was formed in 1996 one of its goals was to break the 1 million subscriber barrier.

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