Sony, Carrier Join on 'Smart Card' Phones

Monday, October 27th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ Sony Corp. and Japan's top mobile phone carrier, NTT DoCoMo, will set up a joint venture using ``smart card'' technology to let people use their cell phones to pay for train tickets or buy items in stores.

The FeliCa Networks venture, to be set up in Tokyo in January, will employ 90 people and develop a new chip that integrates mobile phones with card technology developed by Sony, the two companies said Monday.

The smart cards, which have an integrated circuit chip embedded in them, can communicate with special equipment that allows card-owners to pass through train station gates or make payments at cash registers in stores.

Sony will invest 60 percent in the 6 billion yen (US$55 million) joint venture, and NTT DoCoMo will invest 40 percent.

The venture will carry out production and licensing agreements with chip manufacturers and service providers to create a system for the services, both companies said.

NTT DoCoMo plans to test the service with 6,000 mobile phones in December in Japan, and handsets with the technology will probably go on sale here by the middle of next year, officials said.

NTT DoCoMo has scored success in Japan with its Internet-linking mobile phone service called ``i-mode,'' which has 40 million users. People use i-mode to look up train schedules, exchange e-mail and download pictures.

``DoCoMo is credited with changing the cell phones of the world with i-mode,'' said Sony Chief Executive Nobuyuki Idei. ``The joint venture features the unique combination of Sony and DoCoMo.''

Sony's FeliCa smart card technology, developed in 1988, is widely used in Japanese train systems and is also used in Hong Kong.

Promoters believe the FeliCa technology has the potential to grow into a global standard, and NTT DoCoMo said it hopes to offer the service overseas.

The main source of revenue for the joint venture will come from licensing fees, and the company does not expect to make a profit for the first few years, said venture president Soichi Kawachi.

The system will be made available to rival carriers as well as service providers and other companies, officials said.

NTT DoCoMo Chief Executive Keiji Tachikawa told reporters he would like to see the technology become a standard feature in all DoCoMo phones.

``The joint venture is the first step into the future,'' he said.

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