In January 2006, cell phones are expected to take over this job. East Japan Railway Company, Sony Corporation and NTT DoCoMo have combined efforts to transform mobile phones into electronic wallets. A new service combining DoCoMo’s i-mode FeliCa smartcard handset and Suica’s IC card will grant mobile phones the capability of purchasing train tickets. The Mobile Suica service will enable i-mode FeliCa handsets to be used instead of Suica cards.
DoCoMo’s i-mode FeliCa service combines two complex platforms: DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile Internet service for data communications on the go and Sony’s FeliCa smartcard platform for data transmission. The result is a powerful handset that, besides mobile communications, provides many other diverse functions ranging from conducting financial transactions to opening electronic locks. So far, more than 2 million i-mode FeliCa-equipped phones have been sold.
DoCoMo has previously released mobile phones that contain an IC chip and can be used to make payments in places equipped with electronic panels that can read smartcards. Until now, however, these phones were not compatible with Suica.
i-mode FeliCa handsets will also be able to perform other types of transactions, such as making restaurant and store payments both inside and outside the JR stations, and as membership IDs. Mobile Suica customers will also be able to check the balance of stored fare usage, recharge stored fare and purchase commuter passes anytime and anywhere using their handsets. JR East is considering providing even more services after the launch, including online shopping with Suica electronic money and purchasing reserved tickets for Shinkansen, Japanese high-speed bullet trains.
New service using i-mode FeliCa handsets will be tested in March and is expected to attract millions of customers by its launch next year.