TOKYO - Sony Corp. is studying ways to let consumers use their cell phones to buy groceries at convenience stores, pick up the tab for lunch and pay train fares, the company said Wednesday.
The electronics giant already has its own smart card payment service called Edy - an acronym for "euro, dollar, yen" - which is accepted by about 2,700 stores in Japan.
Sony said it's working on using the same computer chip technology, called FeliCa, in cell phones. About 2.7 million Edy cards are currently in circulation.
But the company declined to confirm a newspaper report Wednesday that it would tie up with NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan's largest mobile telephone provider, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of the cell phone market.
"We're looking into the possibility of integrating FeliCa technology into mobile phones, but beyond that we don't wish to comment," said Gerald Cavanagh, a Sony spokesman.
Sony wouldn't say which mobile telephone carriers it was considering working with.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported Sony and DoCoMo will set up a joint venture to develop, manufacture and sell the chips.
NTT DoCoMo, which has about 45 million mobile telephone subscribers, issued a statement saying they have "not yet finalized specifications or a business plan," but said they believe such a chip would benefit mobile telephones.
The Nihon Keizai said Sony and DoCoMo plan to embed the chips in DoCoMo's "third generation" cell phones called FOMA. Consumers would insert digital cash data into the chips on their phones at specified retail outlets or with credit cards over the Internet, the newspaper said.
Some 7.27 million commuters on East Japan Railway already use commuter train passes embedded with the Sony technology. They can swipe their "Suica" cards up to 10 centimeters (four inches) from sensors, even when stored in a wallet or a pocket.
Separately, KDDI, Japan's second largest telecommunications carrier, on Wednesday unveiled a new high-speed service for mobile phones that will let users transmit movies, books and other high-volume files five to six times faster than NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone's third-generation services - and at a lower cost.
The service will initially be offered only in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya and gradually extended nationwide by September 2004. It is the first in Japan to charge a flat monthly fee. The 4,200 yen (US$38.50) cost includes e-mail and Internet access, and some multimedia freebies, KDDI said.