Suica Mashup Mapping

Sherelog is a system that fetches data from JR’s Suica RFID train pass and visualizes personal train-ride records on a large public map (or Google Map). Koutaro Hashimoto, Yasuhiro Suzuki, Toshio Iwai, Michitaka Hirose showed this system at the Japan Media Arts Festival earlier this month. The developers’ intentions seem to be (1) to support people to remember their personal travel histories and reflect upon them and (2) to create unique opportunities for communications by making it extremely easy to share personal travel histories.

JR East Cranks up Cell-phone Tickets

A new service using mobile phones as smart tickets for trains operated by East Japan Railway Co. began Saturday. The service, named Mobile Suica, combines the service of JR East’s Suica IC card and mobile phone service offered by NTT DoCoMo Inc. and KDDI Corp. Once customers pay for train fees or train passes online, they can go through JR wickets in and around Tokyo by just holding their handsets over card readers on the ticket gates, according to the railway. (Mobile Suica is finally in operation! See today’s Viewpoint — Eds.)

Japan Rail Launches Mobile Wallet Phone Service

Japan Rail Launches Mobile Wallet Phone Service by Mobikyo KKOn a sunny Saturday morning here in Tokyo, Japan Rail launched their long-awaited Mobile Suica service, which will allow customers to use their FeliCa-enabled Osaifu ketai (wallet phone) to get into the station simply by swiping their handset past the turnstile reader. The service will be available at almost 900 stations located in the Tokyo, Sendai, Niigata, and Kansai regions. On roll-out day the system supports 12 handset models from DoCoMo and KDDI; none of the three available Vodafone units will be supported at launch. Interesting to note that DoCoMo’s latest F702iD, just announced last week, will be accepted as well. Until now, it has in fact not been possible to use your phone as a train ticket in Japan. Despite all the live demonstrations, trade-show hype and media speculation around FeliCa, the FeliCa-based Suica cards used by JR and the FeliCa-based handsets sold by DoCoMo, KDDI and Vodafone have been incompatible. As the well-established ‘Suica’ card is also accepted at many shops (including Bic Camera, a major electronics chain) in and around JR stations, this move will undoubtedly push up the volume of mobile payments made in 2006. It should come as no surprise that NTT DoCoMo announced on 26 January that sales of their FeliCa handsets passed the 10 million mark, a notable increased from the stated [.pdf] circulation of 7.7 million units in November 2005.

DoCoMo Announces 702i-series 3G Handsets

DoCoMo Announces 702i-series 3G HandsetsNTT DoCoMo held a press conference in downtown Tokyo this afternoon to announce the spring roll-out of five new handsets in the 702i-series for FOMA 3G phones (Sharp, NEC, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi and Panasonic). The series includes three ‘designer’ models — a first for DoCoMo. The carrier invited three prominent designers to work on the SH702iD, the N702iD and the F702iD. If the solid success with designer models enjoyed by competitors KDDI and Vodafone is any hint, DoCoMo should do modestly well with this new low-budget series.

Big D appears unconcerned over the potential conflict in the series’ naming. The three designer 702s are dubbed “iD” — possibly for “i-mode designer” or “independent designer.” However, the Fujitsu model is also FeliCa- and mobile Suica-compatible, and all FeliCa models to date have been dubbed “iC” (indicating ‘IC chip’). Should the Fujitsu therefore be the F702iCD? The giant carrier also seems keen on promoting its new iD credit-card (website) having created this cool ‘Vitruvian Man’ logo that we’ve noticed splashed all over Tokyo the last few weeks. That new m-commerce application is included on the Fujitsu 702iD model (but not the SH702iD or the N702iD) and we expect there could well be some confusion in the marketplace between these unrelated iD brands.

This is the first 70x-series to offer automatic Security Scan, which uses automatic downloads in the background to update phones with the latest security software from DoCoMo. The five models will be exhibited at Aoyama Spiral from January 17 to 22. More details on today’s press conference after the jump

Wireless Watch Japan – Top Stories for 2005

Wireless Watch Japan - Top Stories for 2005We published 596 articles on Wireless Watch Japan in 2005 and thought you might enjoy looking back at the most popular Japan mobile industry highlights from the year. The links below, three from each month, represent the two top stories (by volume of visitor requests) and a third which we consider a significant development in that 30-day period.

It’s been a year of explosive year in the mobile world and 2006 is set to be even much more interesting with faster mobile networks, more powerful handsets and compelling contents settling into the mainstream. Here in Japan, we are expecting a dramatic increase in m-commerce adoption, driven in part by Mobile Suica’s launch, set for later in January and the start of ‘One-Seg’ digital TV broadcasting starting — on all three carriers — on 1 April (no joke). We also see a potential increase in churn as a result of the (belated) introduction of number portability and with three new carriers entering the market, even DoCoMo is concerned.

One of the more obvious action areas in 2006 will be the increase of M&A activity at all levels; in particular, look for consolidation in the Japanese handset market. Meanwhile, lets boldly predict that we’ll have at least a few 3.5G (HSDPA) phones on the streets of Tokyo by this time next year. Interesting times ahead, indeed. Get all the skinny after the jump!

Major Mobile Commerce Trials Announced

Major Mobile Commerce Trials AnnouncedA group of major m-commerce companies announced a large-scale U.S. trial last week to include contactless payment, mobile content and premium arena services at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. The companies claim the trial will be the first large-scale test of next-generation mobile-phone applications in North America. The grouping includes Chase, Cingular Wireless, Nokia, Philips, Visa USA and others. The contactless payment functionality will be based on Near Field Communication (NFC) technology first developed by Sony and Philips. Other NFC trials are underway in Germany and France.

Wireless Watchers will know that the Sony/Philips NFC technology is also powering the super-successful “FeliCa”-branded mobile contactless payment services in Japan and has been adopted by NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Vodafone as the de facto market standard for m-commerce, e-wallets, transportation and other peer-to-peer data transfer services. Sony first deployed NFC on the Octopus card in Hong Kong in 1997 and rolled their mobile handset trial ran in Japan in December 2003 — see WWJ video here. Today, over 7 million FeliCa-enabled phones have already been sold by DoCoMo alone.

One might think the two-year jump on deployment and commercial experience, not to mention brand equity, in Japan would motivate Sony to transplant an obvious success story from Tokyo to markets elsewhere. Instead, it looks like the wheel is being reinvented all over again.

DoCoMo Credit-Card Site Soft Launch

DoCoMo credit cardOn 8 November, DoCoMo said they would start offering a new FeliCa-compatible credit card, called the ‘iD card‘ (that’s ‘i’ and in ‘i-mode’ and — we guess — ‘D’ as in ‘dominant market position’), on 1 December. The iD card will allow i-moders to make credit card payments with a FeliCa eWallet phone; Big D said the payment procedure will be “as simple as waving the phone in front of dedicated reader/writers at stores.” Now, it looks like their Flash-heavy, groovy, dedicated iD-card website is now open, trolling for prospective customers.

When you’re the dominant wireless carrier in the market, and you’ve invested billions in building a 3G network, but hoped-for packet revenues collapse when your No. 1 competitor beats you up with flat-rate pricing, launching your own credit-card brand is a sensible option. Welcome to the ultra-high-tech, but old-fashioned-business-model, future..

2006: Japan's Year of the FeliCa eWallet Phone

2006: Japan's Year of the FeliCa eWallet PhoneAccording to the ancient Chinese calendar, 2006 is The Year of the Dog. More importantly, it’s shaping up to be The Year of the eWallet. Launched last summer, DoCoMo’s FeliCa-based wallet phones are a growing success and competitors Vodafone and KDDI have scrambled to launch their own FeliCa-equipped models.

A recent survey points to wide consumer satisfaction and even the BBC have started reporting on Osaifu Keitai (wallet phones). The BBC’s ‘Click Online’ producer caught up with me last month in Tokyo; they were in town to cover CEATEC, but also wanted the tech and business-model details on DoCoMo’s ‘i-mode FeliCa‘ mobile service, as well as how people are using them. The result was a pretty good TV programme (if I may say so myself), which you can watch on the Click Online site(WWJ subscribers log in for full story).

Vodafone Flips for Felica in 3G Fall/Winter Lineup

Vodafone Flips for Felica in 3G Fall/Winter Lineup

Vodafone follows DoCoMo and KDDI into the brave new revenue world of Osaifu Keitai [wallet phone] introducing its first Felica-equipped handset at a press conference for the Japanese carrier’s Fall/Winter 3G lineup [.PDF]. Four handsets: the 702NK II from Nokia, 703SHf and 604SH both from Sharp plus the 703N by NEC are scheduled for release in October and November. The company is counting on this lineup’s smooth design esthetics, sophisticated hardware and contents to re-ignite consumer interest in the Vodafone brand.

At just 47mm wide the 703SHf is Vodafone’s slimmest 3G handset yet. Besides Felica it has a 1.3 megapixel camera, 2-inch ASV LCD screen and the music player supports AAC and SD-Audio MP3 music files. But who cares. It’s really all about the chip. The Felica IC chip system developed by Sony allows users to swipe Felica-equipped mobile handsets over designated readers and pay for everything from a bottle of ice tea to an airline ticket. DoCoMo started loading it onto their 3G phones in July 2004 and has sold around 5 million Felica-equipped phones so far. The other carriers have seen little choice but to follow. These Sony IC chips have become ubiquitous not by Felica but through the Suica JR train commuter cards which can also be used at shops inside designated train stations and at platform kiosks. Thanks to DoCoMo, Suica is going mobile next year and there are plans to incorporate private train lines and subways into the Suica system as well. KDDI began selling their first Felica handset, the W32S from Sony Ericcson, this month.

JR & DoCoMo Co-Op for Mobile Wallets

East Japan Railway Company (JR East) and NTT DoCoMo, Inc. (DoCoMo) announced today that they have signed a basic agreement to discuss joint development and management of common infrastructure for JR East’s Suica e-money and DoCoMo’s upcoming “Osaifu-Keitai” credit card service, both based on FeliCa smart card technology. [Ed’s note: They announced the tie-up at this presser back in March]