February 22, 2005

NTT DoCoMo plans to start testing next month a service that would enable cellular phone subscribers to use their handsets to pay for train rides, the latest example of the Japanese wireless carrier's push to make the mobile phone a devices for financial transactions.

In developing the new service, expected to launch in January 2006, DoCoMo has partnered with East Japan Railway Co. and Sony Corp. The Mobile Suica service will enable DoCoMo subscribers using its FeliCa smart-card handset to pay for rides on JR East trains.

East JR currently issues an electronic payment card to riders. The so-called Suica card, which has been issued to more than 10 million riders, can also be used to make purchases at selected restaurants, convenience stores and other shops inside and outside JR stations.

DoCoMo's mobile-transaction service combines DoCoMo's i-mode mobile Internet service for data communications and Sony's FeliCa smart-card platform for secure data transmission. As of Feb. 12 more than 2 million i-mode FeliCa handsets have been sold. The mobile phones offer a variety of services ranging from financial transactions to opening electronic locks.

FeliCa Networks Inc., a joint venture established by the three companies, will develop chips for the Mobile Suica service and service applications.

The services available in January include recharging a stored fare, purchasing commuter passes and checking the balance of stored fare usage on the screen of the handsets.