East Japan Railway Company (JR East), NTT DoCoMo and Sony today announced they will offer a new service combining DoCoMo’s Mobile FeliCa smart-card handset with JR East’s Suica card starting in January 2006. The “Mobile Suica” service will enable FeliCa-enabled i-mode handsets to be used as Suica cards to board JR trains and make purchases in station shops and kiosks. With the news, two services that started as competitors for ecash settlement-on-the-go appear to have buried the yamakatana. Train-riding, phone-using consumers will have little excuse not to use FeliCa now. The companies said a test of the service will begin March 2005 using pilot i-mode FeliCa handsets.
Until now, more than 10 million Suica cards have been issued. The cards can be used not only to ride trains, but also to make purchases at selected restaurants, convenience stores and other shops inside and outside JR stations.
DoCoMo’s i-mode FeliCa service combines two platforms: DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile Internet service for data communications on the go and Sony’s FeliCa smart-card platform for rapid, secure data transmission. As of February 12 more than 2 million i-mode FeliCa handsets have been sold.
FeliCa Networks, Inc., a joint venture established by the three companies, will develop IC chips for the Mobile Suica service and service applications.
It appears that the two leading FeliCa technology-based epayment services in Japan have finally buried their differences. It never made sense for consumers to be offered two more-or-less competing payment services under two different brands both targeted at people on the go (either on trains or talking on the phone).
Both DoCoMo and JR East had been pouring development cash into their separate services: DoCoMo by directly subsidizing reader terminals for merchants, among other efforts, and JR East by building their own branded chain of snack shops located at stations and aggressively encouraging existing station kiosk owners to sign up for the service. By combining the two, there should be a corresponding reduction in cost for branding, marketing and technology and a rise in usage once people realise their phone can be used for tickets, kiosk and shop purchases and — let’s not forget — for making calls.
At its launch in January 2006, Mobile Suica customers, in addition to enjoying all current Suica features, are expected to be able to use their handsets to do the following:
JR East is also considering offering the following Mobile Suica services after the launch:
(Watch this space for updated news from today’s presser to follow.)