Friday, April 29, 2005

Japan's passion for wallet phones

Gadget loving society...


Japan's biggest mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo, is making
coinless payments with computer chip-embedded "wallet
phones" as easy as using a credit card.

The Tokyo-based mobile unit of Japan's top
telecommunications company, Nippon Telegraph and
Telephone Corp., is investing about $925 million to take
a 34 percent stake in Sumitomo Mitsui Card Co., the
credit card unit of a major Japanese bank, both sides
said Wednesday.

Since the service began last year, Japanese using NTT
DoCoMo's "wallet phones" have climbed to some 3 million

The wallet feature, which uses Sony Corp.'s FeliCa IC
chip technology, is just the latest for this
gadget-loving nation's fancy handsets, including digital
cameras, portable TVs, e-mail and streaming video
downloads. All you need to do to make payments with a
wallet phone is swipe the handset next to a special
terminal set up at stores, which have climbed to 20,000
shops nationwide.

The catch so far is that the money must be prepaid.
People must first go to a special machine, where you put
cash in the machine, which records the advance payments
into the chip inside your phone.

Now, the ceiling for such payments stands at $470, but
that's likely to grow with the credit card tie-up,
according to NTT DoCoMo. Details - including security
concerns, the card-brand name and when the service will
begin - have yet to be decided, it said.

The wallet phone, which can now also be used at some
soda-pop vending machines and restaurants, is part of
DoCoMo's ambitions to turn cell phones into the gadget
of choice for the future, replacing wallets, credit
cards, tickets and keys.

NTT DoCoMo controls about 60 percent of the Japanese
mobile market with 48 million customers. Sumitomo
Mitsui Card is Japan's second-largest credit card
company with 12.8 million customers.

Sumitomo Mitsui, which pioneered Visa card issuance in
Japan, will install terminals at retail shops
nationwide, which will probably greatly boost the places
where wallet phones can be used. Sumitomo Mitsui
Banking Corp., the banking unit in the same group, will
also develop ATMs compatible with wallet phones, the
companies said.
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