bitWallet: Sony & DoCoMo Make Mobile Money
We’ve told you before that the celly is morphing into an e-wallet, and it looks as though it’s going to happen in 2003. bitWallet is a joint venture between Sony, NTT DoCoMo, and a bevy of banks and other interested players all salivating over potential profits. Although there are no details yet on what an e-wallet-enabled keitai will ultimately look like, today’s program shows how contactless smart cards are being used in Japan. Features an in-depth interview with sr. bitWallet staff; if you want a glimpse of the future – don’t miss this one.
Comments from Wireless Watch Japan Editor-in-Chief Daniel Scuka:
Today’s video newsmagazine is a little frantic!
We stuffed visits with three commerce-related tech companies into a 20-some-odd-minute documentary to create what may prove to be WWJ’s most important program of the year.
The lead company that we met was bitWallet, a joint venture between Sony, Sony Financing, NTT DoCoMo, Tokyo Mitsubishi Bank, Toyota Motor, KDDI, and 24 other companies. The firm produces the Edy contactless card-based e-money system, which in turn uses Sony’s proprietary “Felica” smartcard radio-sensing technology. Felica has been deployed in Edy e-money cards, Japan Rail’s “Suica” cards used for entering trains, and several other applications.
With a Felica-based smartcard system, the cards act as debit cards and can be recharged via vending-type money machines (located at high-traffic areas in downtown Tokyo), point-of-sale terminals, and the Internet (you buy a separate USB card reader for your PC and set up an online Edy account).
Obviously, the Felica system can be installed into a cell phone, and that’s exactly why today’s program may be seminal: we’re showing you the face of the future.
In February, NTT DoCoMo sources confirmed the company would start selling Felica-enabled handsets later this year; the company is in the final stages of design for implementation. In a story on IT World.com, Tokyo IDG correspondent Martyn Williams wrote that the handsets “will support the Edy electronic money system and allow users to pay for goods in supporting shops.” He also cited sources as saying that “another carrier” is also negotiating with bitWallet to include Edy in its new handsets later in 2003, and noted that KDDI is also a bitWallet partner.
Of course it will take time, but with the cellular handset serving as the vector agent for Edy, adoption may occur faster than anyone thinks.
Just like an Edy card at present, a Felica-equipped celly will be able to serve like any other debit card to buy, well, anything – and it can be recharged via i-mode. No more chintzy 300-yen limitations on what you can buy with DoCoMo serving as the billing agent; no more limitations on buying only ring tones, images, content services, or what an i-mode site operator is willing to sell for 300 yen; in fact, no more limitations – period.
In addition, I think mobile Edy has a good chance to serve as a disrupting agent for shopping using bank-issued debit cards and store-issued credit cards (depending on the incentives those systems can offer). Of course it will take time, but with the cellular handset serving as the vector agent for Edy, adoption may occur faster than anyone thinks.
Later in today’s program, we also look at bar-code readers and employee tracking services that work via cell phone. While interesting, and certainly applicable to a wide range of customers (convenience stores, chain restaurants, corporate cafeterias, etc.) these have no where near the mass-market implications that the roll-out of Edy on cell phones does.
Whether mobile Edy will prove to be as disruptive to existing debit-card and store credit card purchases as I think it will remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Japan is once again serving as a test bed for mobile and mobile-related technologies and other countries will have to react to this market’s results.
More info (Japanese): http://www.bitwallet.co.jp