NTT DoCoMo, Sony To Unveil 'Wallet Phones' In December

By Agence France-Presse Japanese cellular phone giant NTT DoCoMo Inc. and electronics maker Sony Corp. say they will jointly unveil this year mobile "wallet phones" mounted with smart cards that would allow users to chat, send email and buy such things as train passes or pay restaurant bills. The technology will make its trial debut in December and involve 6,000 people in Japan, followed by the main launch by March 2005. The two companies plan to establish the joint venture FeliCa Networks Inc. in January, capitalized at 6 billion yen (US$54.5 million) and owned 60% by Sony and 40% by DoCoMo. The new venture will benefit primarily from licensing and maintaining the technology for client businesses, but is not likely to profit for the first three years, the companies said. The venture expands the use of Sony's 38 million FeliCa chips, which currently act like electronic money systems, corporate identification cards or pre-paid, rechargeable smart-card train tickets in Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan's leading mobile phone operator, expects to benefit from boosted usage on its increasingly global network. Since its debut in Japan in February 1999, DoCoMo's i-mode service, which enables mobile-phone users to send and receive e-mail, surf the Web, and take and transmit digital images, has attracted more than 40 million users in Japan. DoCoMo has sealed agreements with foreign operators to have i-mode introduced in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Taiwan, Belgium, France and Italy. DoCoMo Executive Vice President Keiichi Enoki said DoCoMo is looking forward to take the wallet phone abroad. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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