Qualcomm Funds P2P Mobile Commerce

We’re pleased to see that OboPay has closed its second round of funding lead by $7 mn from none other than Qualcomm! That would indicate it’s quite likely we’ll see a strong push for their BREW-based P2P mobile commerce application in the future. This news also seems to be at least somewhat disruptive to the existing embedded IC chip effort lead by Sony and Phillips. As both KDDI/au and Vodafone (almost SoftBank Mobile) are running on Qualcomm’s chipset in Japan, this development might present them with a viable alternative to paying license fees to FeliCa Networks as well…

Proof is in the Mobile Pudding

The good folks over at CIAJ (Communications and Information Network of Japan) issued a press item last week to announce results of their annual study on cellular phone use. According to CIAJ, “The study aims to capture on-going changes in the domestic mobile communications market and has been conducted since 1998.”

The study includes some interesting results related to actual usage of mobile Internet services, including email, music, GPS, mobile TV, e-wallets, number portability and more. The organization says they mailed questionnaires to 600 cellular phone users (male: 303, female: 297; by age group, under 20: 102, twenties: 101, thirties: 108, forties: 95, fifties: 95, sixties and above: 99) residing in the larger Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas from the end of March through April, 2006…

Tokyo's amazing week: UK/Jpn JV, 'SoftBank Mobile' and MNP

Watching the business of wireless in Japan just keeps getting better!

Last week brought a slew of new announcements, including news of the JPY11 bn SoftBank/Vodafone joint venture, confirmation that the company formerly known as Vodafone KK will henceforth be known as ‘SoftBank Mobile’ and details on the long-awaited MNP (mobile number portability) implementation. Subscribers can access WWJ’s insight on the first two in today’s Viewpoint (here), but read on below for our take on MNP — possibly the biggest revolution in Japan mobile since i-mode itself.

First, a little history.

Until now, the Big Three cellular carriers (DoCoMo, KDDI/au and Vodafone), as well as the smaller PHS carriers (Willcom, Astel, etc.), have run their networks as independent — and highly competitive — fiefdoms. There has been nothing like number portability or, for that matter, portability of any other service/feature. If you switched carriers, you lost your number…

Au Blitz Unveils Seven New Handsets

KDDI has just held a press conference in the New Otani hotel to introduce another seven new handset models for the summer season just as the most recent batch announced earlier this year are now hitting the streets here in Japan. The new hardware on tap includes a Walkman branded model from Sony Ericsson and Casio’s follow-up to last years popular G’zOne water-proof ‘tough phone’ offering. They have also announced another Hitachi handset with the felica mobile wallet chip, a super-slim Kyocera coming in at 18mm thick with a 2.4inch ASV liquid crystal screen (and analog tv tuner), a new Toshiba ‘mass music’ model with bluetooth and 1GB memory on-board plus an additional digital TV tuner enabled unit (with PC site viewer) coming from Sanyo.

Desirable Mobile Services for the Future

Info-Plant has issued a very interesting report on mobile-phone usage in Japan focusing on ‘Desirable Mobile Functions and Services’. Data was collected via a nationwide survey of mobile phone users from the networks of NTT DoCoMo, KDDI/au, and Vodafone and valid responses were received from 7,905 users. Questions asked what mobile phone functions or services were used regularly and respondents were asked to list the services or functions they would like to see added to mobile phones in the future (log in for details).

DoCoMo's Mobile Credit Card Launch

DoCoMo's Mobile Credit Card LaunchDCMX: Is it a phone that can buy stuff or a credit card that can make calls? NTT DoCoMo is hoping that millions of spend-free consumers won’t know or care about the distinction and will simply use the new ‘DCMX’ credit-card phone for, well, pretty much everything. For small, daily purchases — like a six-pack and a take-out bento lunch — use the phone’s e-money FeliCa chip with no authentication required; for larger buys (a cool Louis Vuitton bag from the Omotesando boutique), use the DCMX credit-card function with a swipe and a PIN code; later, the phone will eyeball you for biometric authorization. “We wish to combine telecoms with financial services,” says DoCoMo’s Mr i-mode, Takeshi Natsuno, in today’s video program — and if there’s a cellco anywhere in the world that can afford the value-chain coordination costs to deploy a workable phone/credit card combo, it has to be NTT DoCoMo.DCMX is a logical progression from the carrier’s popular ‘o-saifu keitai’ IC-chip handsets that can store value onboard for small, daily purchases, and the launch announcement confirms DoCoMo’s strategic course aiming squarely at making the network-connected phone the payment method of choice for millions of Japanese. Maybe one day something this useful will be offered by carriers elsewhere?

Intel Buys into Bitwallet

Intel Capital, Intel Corp.’s investment division, announced at a press conference held in Tokyo that it has invested in Bitwallet, Inc., a service provider of e-money EDY. Intel Capital has bought convertible bonds worth 5 billion jpy. According to the announcement Intel plans to contribute to the penetration of electronic money services not only in Japan but also throughout the world. Bitwallet plans to allocate the investment to procure reader/writer terminals to be used at Edy affiliated stores, and terminals to be used for payment business and by major distributors.

This is significant — Bitwallet is the joint venture established by DoCoMo, Sony and more than 35 banks, travel agencies, technology companies, etc. Bitwallet now has a banking license in Japan and serves as the e-money cash issuer and payment settlement operator. This investment from Intel VC — one of the first from an outside pure-VC-capital-growth-seeking partner into the JV — means that someone outside Japan also sees the huge potential in Felica/IC cash payments that DoCoMo and KDDI also see — Eds

Vodafone Launching Sharp 904

Vodafone K.K. has announced that it will commence nationwide sales this weekend of the Vodafone 904SH. This 3G handset by Sharp features the industry’s first VGA liquid crystal display, four times the resolution of current QVGA, making it possible to reproduce visuals and render small characters with more vividness and clarity than before. The model will also support new services and features, such as Face Recognition for enhanced privacy protection, Bluetooth and their Motion Control Sensor capable of measuring handset posture in all directions in 3D a popular function for mobile gaming.

Tokyo Taxis to Accept e-money

Tokyo taxi passengers will soon be able to start paying for their rides using electronic money, three taxi fleet operators said this week. The deals, which involve BitWallet Inc.’s Edy system and East Japan Railway Co.’s (JR East) Suica system, are the latest in a string of agreements from major retailers to accept e-money in lieu of conventional cash for purchases and services. They come as technology for the systems, which are both based on Sony Corp.’s Felica touch-and-go proximity smart card platform.