O2 is reportedly phasing out its i-mode mobile Internet service, as the UK mobile operator looks to boost the adoption of mobile email among small businesses.

O2 said that it is attempting to boost mobile email among the small business sector, with the launch of a free consultancy service to advise the SME market on a range of topics, from setting up mobile email, to using Wi-Fi while out of the office, to using mobile phones as a modem.

“While small businesses can see the value in mobile data, many are put off by the perceived complexity of implementation,” said Simon Devonshire, head of SME marketing, O2 UK.

O2 says that its specialists should be able to help show SME clients how to implement “push email” solutions, offer advice about accessing files and attachments on the move, and show how to synchronise contacts, customer information and reports.

It will also advise SMEs on how to improve the business processes of fieldworkers, setting up 3G data cards, and using a mobile phone as a modem. O2 will also answer questions relating to optimising mobile applications, security and on-going user support.

Meanwhile, O2 is also thought to be abandoning its i-mode service in the UK, after it signed up only 260,000 active users since its launch back in September 2005.

O2, which was famously acquired by the Spanish telecoms incumbent Telefonica back in late 2005 for £17.7 billion, has struggled to replicate in Europe the popularity that i-mode has enjoyed in the Japanese market, where it has an estimated 46 million users. The decision will come as a blow to i-mode’s inventor, the Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo, which had been hoping to drive the adoption of the service outside its domestic market.

O2 will not sell any new i-mode-enabled handsets to UK customers from the end of July, but will continue to support i-mode users for the next two years. It reportedly blamed a limited range of handsets, which has constrained the growth of i-mode.

O2 did not respond to Techworld at the time of writing.