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Yoshiko Hara
Yoshiko Hara
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’Mobile Suica’ phones board Japan’s rail system

Consumers here will soon be able to use their mobile phones on Japan's extensive railway network.

TOKYO — Consumers here will soon be able to use their mobile phones on Japan's extensive railway network.

By next January, the marriage of mobile phones and public transportation is scheduled to begin when Japan's largest train company, East Japan Railway Company (JR East), is scheduled to launch a service named Mobile Suica.

The new service will enable mobile phone users to conduct all ticket-related transactions such as reservations, purchases and fare collection. Moreover, Mobile Suica-ready phones can be used to pay for purchases in stories at JR East railway stations and other stores that support the service.

Major Japanese mobile phone carriers — NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and Vodafone Inc. — plan to support the service with handsets equipped with Felica contactless IC card technology.

Mobile Suica is rooted in Felicia technology Sony has been developing since the mid-1980s. JR East has been offering Suica cards as prepaid tickets and commuter passes since 2001. An electronic cash function was added in March 2003. About 11 million Suica cards are already in use.

The service does not use an actual card, but rather embeds the Felicia chip inside a handset, which functions as an extension of the Suica service.

West Japan Railway (JR West), Japan's second largest, adopted contactless IC cards based on Felica technology in November 2003. The company has not said whether it will adopt the technology for mobile phone service.

JR East said it is negotiating with other public transport companies, including subways, private train companies and bus companies, to join its mobile phone network.

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