Page last updated at 00:09 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Japan's phone firms eye global move

By Mariko Oi
Business reporter, BBC News, Tokyo

Japanese man at a station
Many Japanese commuters use their phone as their rail ticket

"There is no way I can live without my phone," says Japanese salaryman Yuichi Koizumi.

It's not an unusual claim around the globe, but he really means it.

His handset is not an ordinary smart phone.

As well as the usual music player, camera and web browser, Mr Koizumi also uses it as a television, credit card, and train and plane ticket.

"It's my life."

Others in Japan also use their mobile phones to navigate their way home by global positioning system, or to buy cinema tickets and to update personal blogs from wherever they are.

But these technologies are nothing new in Japan. The country has had next generation mobile services for almost a decade.

Weak iPhone sales

Japan also leads the rest of the world in 3G (third generation) mobile phone proliferation, with almost 104 million 3G handsets in use.

Ladies on the phone
Japanese phones lead the way when it comes to new technologies

So Apple's iPhone, in comparison, is nothing revolutionary - as Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs described the phone.

The Japanese are clearly not as impressed as global consumers, and sales of the iPhone have slumped by a third only a few months after its launch.

Japanese consumers have also shied away from the phone because of its high price.

Softbank makes a 16-gigabyte iPhone phone available for about 80,000 yen, ($800; 503), while the cheapest Japanese smart phones are sold from just over $300.

'Too advanced'

But a bigger question is; why have Japanese mobile technologies so far failed to woo global consumers?

Japanese phones can be used to make payments

"It's too early to judge," says Kiyoyuki Tsujimura, a senior executive of the country's largest mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo.

"Japan's technologies have been too advanced, but as the rest of the world catches up, there will be more opportunities for us to export our technologies," adds Mr Tsujimura.

The government shares Mr Tsujimura's view, and recently announced that it will start an aggressive push to market its mobile technology abroad.

It believes the nation's popular wallet phone can be a global hit.

The technology relies on a tiny computer chip called FeliCa, embedded in each cell phone. It communicates with a reader-device at stores, train stations and vending machines for cashless payments.

But as government official Masayuki Ito admits, "Japanese mobile technology tends to be quirky," and may not be perceived well by global consumers.

And in the era of the iPhone - and with rivals in South Korea expanding more aggressively than ever, Japan's efforts may have come a little too late.

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