Japanese RFID phones ready to battle for West

RFID phone in action
Japan's RFID phones can, literally, open doors

On a busy day for Japan's mobile industry, we have word of a government-backed plan, no less, to bring the single most useful phone-based service from there to our fair shores – RFID mobile payments.

The osaifu keitai (wallet mobile) technology we've looked at in-depth over the last few years is to be the subject of a drive by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Micro payments

That agency intends working with phone makers to get the Sony-made FeliCa RFID chips into handsets all over the world.

When that happens, buying anything from a newspaper to a meal in a restaurant could be just the wave of a phone away.

For that to work, of course, the appropriate infrastructure needs to be in place. That includes everything from RFID readers in shops and on vending machines to financial institutions prepared to work with phone networks to offer joined-up services.

Strategic planning

Ludovico Ciferri, deputy director of the Mobile Consumer Lab at the International University of Japan, suggests the Japanese need to target their approach carefully:

"If I were the Japanese government I would consider micro payments only one of the several features that FeliCa technology empowers.

"Also, [they need to] carefully select the target markets. Forget China and India for the moment; focus on Indonesia, Australia, Russia and the like; perhaps Europe [too]."

Nevertheless, with tens of millions of wallet phones already in circulation in Japan and independent plans to use FeliCa in the US, it seems only a matter of time before the convenience of mobile payments spreads to the rest of us too.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.