An exclusive interview with Shusaku Muruko, senior manager of Sony’s Mobile FeliCa Business Division, providing insight on how the FeliCa contactless IC chip (now being trialed on NTT DoCoMo handsets) will soon consign traditional leather wallets to the gomibako of history. In a speech last week, DoCoMo’s “Mr. i-mode,” Takeshi Natsuno, officially confirmed that FeliCa chips will be embedded in this summer’s 506i second-generation handsets — and likely in the next round of FOMA 900i-series 3G handsets as well. With FeliCa mandatory on all new DoCoMo cellies from this summer on, and with crucial partners including KDDI and JCB already on board, FeliCa m-payment technology has a very good chance, we think, of reaching the company’s 60-million-user target for Japan by 2008. If you’re hoping to sell anything via mobile anywhere on planet Earth, this program is a must-see. Full Program Run-time 13:38
As mentioned in numerous stories and our recent video report, Sony and NTT DoCoMo have been busy setting up FeliCa Networks Incorporated to develop the companies’ mobile FeliCa IC chip technology that will, we think, lead to a massive expansion of the mobile phone as a do-all contactless payment device.
In fact, we think FeliCa’s chances of sparking what Maruko says will be a lifestyle (or at least a payments) revolution in the way people use their mobile phones are excellent. Of course, ever since joint-venture bitWallet KK (with Sony, Sony Financing, NTT DoCoMo, Tokyo Mitsubishi Bank, Toyota Motor, KDDI, and 24 other companies) shifted into gear with the “Edy” contactless payment system (a card-based version of the FeliCa technology targeting convenience stores), FeliCa’s been in the cards (pun intended!) for prime-time deployment on mobile phones; we’ve heard various corporate planners talking about the system since at least 2002.
That fact that some 30 million people in three Asian countries are successfully and—apparently—happily using the card-based version of the technology has presented a huge and relatively cost-free public beta test; hence our enthusiasm for the mobile version (we’re not the only one who have noticed that most of those 30 million FeliCa card users also use cellys). In Japan, as the number of Japan Railway commuters using FeliCa on their “Suica” rail pass cards continues to swell (nearly 8 million at last count), the durability of the technology has clearly passed a huge test. There’s no better way to check if the technology is robust or not when you successfully use it day-in and day-out negotiating Tokyo’s jam-packed ticket wickets.
So far there is no news of any significant problems with FeliCa on the 5,000 FeliCa-equipped N504iC and SO504iC mobile phones now being trialed, so it looks like all systems are go, at least technically. FeliCa is based, in turn, on Sony’s proprietary Near Field Technology, which has received ISO and other certifications for security and usability.
In terms of partners for FeliCa, there seems to be no major roadblock. Following the established bitWallet model, it’s clear that Sony has worked out a slow-build, difficult-to-stop momentum for FeliCa, which received a crucial boost when KDDI signed on last December. Oddly, Vodafone has yet to make an announcement about FeliCa in Japan. All we can say is that if they don’t, any equivalent system had better be compatible with the server, ATM, and convenience store systems and networks, or Vodafone KK will find it exceedingly tough to compete.
Why? Because while security is yet a crucial issue (and we guess a fingerprint sensor might be more desirable than a pin code in terms of convenience), recent data from research house InfoPLANT/C-News shows that the Japanese consumer is in theory willing to adopt the mobile phone as a wallet. (Consumers also listed “wan-giri” nuisance call cancellation and lock-out capability in the event that a phone is stolen or lost as highly desirable functions.)
According to another recent survey by InfoPLANT, people were willing on principle to consider using their mobile phones as credit cards or tickets, despite the fact that most respondents had never heard of FeliCa. When FeliCa was explained as a technology that enables their Suica rail card to be embedded in their mobile phones (which, in a simple sense, it is) those polled said they were willing to consider using it. More than 70 percent of respondents were, however, worried about security.