A Tale of Two Mobile Technologies

The recent round of international press devoted to ‘the next big thing for mobile’ has an interesting, and recurring, theme. It started with a fair amount of mainstream media attention devoted to the statements made at CTIA during Visa’s keynote address regarding the evolution of mobile payments. Around the same time we notice that Capt. Kirk went boldly where no ex-pat Canadian would dare go (Toronto in March) to attend this presser with Ted Rogers promoting a new fangled mobile web-cam handset, which the company breathlessly hailed as “a landmark in wireless communications”.

We also noticed this special op-ed from Card Technology about how Sony is potentially challenged to get their m-commerce product outside of Japan. The article did some great work, however there’s plenty of room for a counter-point discussion. One thing rings true, both of these technologies were deployed here in Japan years ago and like the camera-phone will begin making their way into markets overseas in due course.

Sony Ships 200 Million FeliCa Chips

Shipments of smart cards and cell phones containing Sony Corp.’s Felica RFID chip have hit 200 million, the company said Thursday. In the last five years the chip has become a de facto standard in Japan and cards containing it are used by millions of people everyday to make railway journeys and e-money purchases in convenience stores. In 2004 the chip started getting integrated in cell phones [WWJ Video] and today, through Felica, owners of those cell phones can make purchases in stores.

Japan's Mobile Year in Review

It was the best of times, it was… well, it really was the best of times! Also, as the famous line from Dickens goes, it was the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness and the season of.. Mobile!

Looking back on 2006, it’s hard to decide which news from Japan’s mobile scene was the most spectacular. Vodafone pulled out, Softbank stood up, mobile number portability struck, a record number of new handsets hit the street and – as December winds down – Motorola and Samsung are shipping first foreign-made 3G units into Japan.

A ‘quick’ look at what caught WWJ’s attention in ’06 after the jump.

DoCoMo September Presser: Nakamura Emphasizes 3G Coverage

The September presser with NTT DoCoMo’s President Nakamura contained some interesting bits of info on 3G coverage; WWJ subscribers can log in and listen to the entire event on MP3 audio (see today’s Viewpoint).

Yes, I know that there has been an ongoing drumbeat in the media reporting spotty coverage for FOMA users. But Nakamura devoted a lot of time to explaining their ongoing and upcoming base station and 3G FOMA network coverage plans, emphasizing that the carrier would boost coverage at “JR stations, universities, junior colleges and high schools.”

SoftBank Mobile Comes Out Swinging

WWJ Editors, 28 September 2006
SoftBank Mobile Comes Out Swinging by Mobikyo KKThe long summer silence from SoftBank on the rebranding of Vodafone K.K. to SoftBank Mobile is over with no less than 12 press releases issued today in advance of the official launch on 1 October. The company has introduced 13 new handsets, a variety of updated service offerings and new personnel. As mobile number portability (MNP) arrives on 24 October, and with strong competition from market leader NTT DoCoMo and No. 2 carrier KDDI, the struggling former Vodafone franchise clearly needed to get their house in order.

Some little-known news: Industry insiders here were surprised to learn in late August that the long-time head of Qualcomm Japan, Ted Matsumoto, had moved over to SoftBank taking on the title of CSO (Chief Strategy Officer) for Masayoshi Son’s newly minted celco. The official announcement was made during a wide ranging press conference that also introduced Cameron Diaz as the star attraction for their new advertising campaign that planned to blitz TV and outdoor ads over the coming weeks.

On the network front, they have announced that ‘Super 3G’ (HSDPA), with availability limited to the greater Tokyo area, will start in October to service their new HTC – X01HT smartphone. This Windows Mobile-enabled unit will default to regular W-CDMA (or GSM/GPRS overseas) in areas without high-speed coverage. The company also announced new applications and services ranging from the widely expected Yahoo Mobile Search integration, “Hot Talk” instant messenger, a “3D Town” event guide map, and – finally – a “Live Monitor” scrolling text push service.

M-Commerce Convergence Announced

East Japan Railway Company (JR East), NTT DoCoMo, JCB, and bitWallet just announced that they have agreed to share a common platform to enable their e-payment brands — Suica, iD, QUICPay and Edy — to share the same point-of-sale reader/writer device and data center. The system is expected to begin commercial operation with the Suica and iD brands in January 2007, with QUICPay and Edy [ .jpg image ] to be added subsequently.

JR Boosts m-Commerce and Survey Results

JR has announced they will drop the previous requirement to have the company’s “View” credit card in order to take advantage of their Mobile Suica service as of 21 October. They have also indicated that by sometime in December this year, SoftBank Mobile customers with FeliCa-enabled handsets (no model types announced) will also finally be able to use JR’s m-commerce system.

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?

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.