Japan to start overseas cell phone technology push
Japan will start an aggressive push to market abroad its mobile technology, especially the nation's popular "wallet phone," a government official said Tuesday.
Although Japan boasts some of the most sophisticated cell phones in the world, delivering high-speed Internet connections, digital TV broadcasts and video downloads, the nation has failed to make its handsets, wireless technology and mobile services hits outside of Japan.
The latest initiative spearheaded by the government with an industry group of Japanese carriers and manufacturers is an effort to help Japan catch up in wooing global users, said Masayuki Ito, official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Among the wireless innovations Japan hopes to peddle is the wallet phone. The technology relies on a tiny computer chip called FeliCa, embedded in each cell phone, which communicates with a reader-device at stores, train stations and vending machines for cashless payments.
FeliCa was developed by Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp. Such technology is more common in smart cards, popular in Singapore and parts of Europe. But Japan hopes to market the technology abroad for cell phones.
In Japan, wallet phones have been available since 2004, introduced by top mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo. Most recent handset models here have the wallet function.
Older Japanese technology had compatibility problems with other global standards, but new third-generation technology allows new products to be used outside the country, and can be more easily adapted to overseas products.
Japan leads the rest of the world in 3G cell phone proliferation, with nearly 104 million 3G handsets in use, or about 90 percent of cell phones being used in Japan.
Japan also hopes to promote overseas other kinds of wireless technology, including 3G mobile phones with GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications, which allows the same phone to be used in most countries.
Ito acknowledged that wireless technology must adapt to differing social needs around the world. Wallet phones have been hits in Japan because of the omnipresent convenience stores and vending machines, as well as the relative lack of credit card use here. But conditions in other nations may differ.
"Some critics say Japanese mobile technology tends to be quirky like the Galapagos Islands," he said, referring to the isolated Pacific islands reputed to have averted evolutionary changes in a reference of the incompatibility of older Japanese cell phones and their quirky services.
"But Asian nations such as Taiwan and South Korea have for years expressed great interest in Japanese cell phones," he added.
Other technology Japan hopes to promote abroad are more futuristic such as fourth-generation wireless, Ito said.
Details and budget plans for the government effort are being outlined in the next few months, but a proposal was approved at a ministry meeting last month.
The ministry is planning international missions and seminars to spread the word about Japan's technology, he said.