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Mobile wallets take hold in Japan

With the pace of life seemingly getting forever faster, smartcard payment systems have been seen as way of doing away with the hassle of hunting through your wallet for dog-eared banknotes and grubby coins

Most Londoners will be familiar with the Oyster card, the smartcard payment system used on London Underground. Now imagine that instead of having to carry a card, your mobile phone performed the same function and, what’s more, this phone could be used to buy a copy of your daily paper and a frappe latte at your favourite branch of CorporateCoffee.

Well this is not far from the experience enjoyed by users of NTT DoCoMo’s Edy service in Tokyo. The system is based on technology developed by Sony which sees a contactless IC chip, called FeliCa, sit inside mobile phones. By flashing their phones next to a reader in shops, consumers can buy a wide variety of goods and services and have their accounts charged accordingly.

NTT DoCoMo’s Edy service was launched in Japan last year and with 5 million wallet phones sold, according to Reuters, the “mobile wallet” is now starting to take hold in Japan. Its impact on Japanese retail landscape looks set to grow further with the launch of a new “mobile wallet” alliance last week, which aims to enable customers of most major credit cards to use their phones at QUICPay terminals to pay for items in stores.

Such “mobile wallet” schemes would seem to create a virtuous circle. Users benefit from hassle-free payments, credit card companies get to expand their market whilst mobile phone companies are able to develop an alternative revenue stream to help counter the trend towards flat-rate data and flat-rate voice charging.

Given, however, the paranoid nature of the lastest government advertising around mobile phone theft, just what the UK police would make of turning phones into portable cash stores is less clear.