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Cell phone as a debit card.

Using cell phone coupon to buy burgers!

Still on the topic of Japanese cell phone culture. I found few interesting services offered to costumers. The most interesting one I found was ‘E-Wallet Service’. Imagine a wallet free future, where when you leave the house, all you need to bring is your cell phone; Replacing credit cards and identification cards with cell phone.

This new technology is in fact not so new for Japanese cell phone users. Since 2004, cell phones in Japan were able to pay for small purchases such as buying soft drinks at the vending machine and buying train tickets at the station. Japan’s largest cell phone service provider, NTT DoCoMo, first enabled this service. Starting 2005, DoCoMo expanded their e-wallet service by working together with major travel companies, banking organizations, fast food restaurants (such as McDonalds) and convenience stores. People were able to purchase local flights and even gain access to certain corporate security doors (e-Identification service). The smart card chip, FeliCa is put into these mobile wallets and just by wave of a hand at close range, people can purchase goods and it also can act as a personal identification device (can be use as a boarding pass to certain flights). As of 2007, quarter of the Japanese population (approximately 30 million people) own this mobile wallet.

So my question here would be, ‘why while Japanese been using this service for almost six years, no other countries are doing the same?’ The answer lies simply in unique Japanese cell phone culture. In Japan (as I mentioned in my previous post), cell phone has become part of people’s everyday life. It has become a necessity to all Japanese, center of their life. However, for this service to work, as stated by Leslie Berlin from The New York Times, “cell phone manufacturers, carriers, financial institutions and retailers must all play roles” and this is very difficult for other countries, especially the United States because they have so many different manufacturers, carriers and banks. Normally, the more factors there are in an equation, the harder it is to achieve something especially because these organizations are very competitive against each other. This is why other countries will have to wait a while longer to enjoy this service.

Some Interesting Articles (References):

Business Week
‘$5,000? Put It On My Cell. DoCoMo’s next big move: Phones that double as Credit Cards’

The New York Times
‘Prototype Cellphones as Credit Cards? Americans Must Wait’

‘Burger paid for by mobile phone’

IEEE Xplore
‘Here comes the wallet phone [wireless credit card]’

Press Relesae at Paris – Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre
‘Contactless cell phone payment and e-ticketing: Japan leads the way at CARTES & Identification 2007′

So I was thinking what kind of ambient media I should do for Japan and suddenly I remember an article I read a while back about Japanese Cell Phone Culture.

Japan has a very unique cell phone culture; where more people own a cell phone than a computer. Most teenagers and young adults in Japan rarely use personal computer to surf the internet, instead, they use their cell phone. This trend started on 1999, when one of Japanese leading cell phone provider, NTT Docomo introduced an internet service using cell phone. People can surf the net, check their email, download music and access GPS. They created a special system just for Japanese cell phones. This is why Japanese cell phone and its providers only can be used within Japan, because of the different system (I wouldn’t bore you with the details). So when I was in Japan 4 years ago (2005), one of my friend had the GSP service in her phone. When we got lost trying to look for this restaurant, she typed in our current location and the destination. The GPS straight away directed us step by step to the destination. I was so amazed by this technology!! Now cell phone has became part of Japanese culture. This statement is proven by the fact that in Japanese train stations there are many posters on manners of how to use a cell phone in public places, especially in the train.



Some interesting stats:

In January 2007, the number of cell phone in Japan reached 100 million. With population of 127 million, almost 80% of its people now own a cell phone. In addition, more than 80 million people use cell phone to surfing the internet. 90% of Japanese who are under 40 years of age are now online using their cell phone. As of May 2008, 31.3% of elementary school students, and 57.6% of middle school students own a cell phone.


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