Largest carriers in China, Japan, Korea agree on NFC 'roaming'

China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo, and KT have established handset and service requirements for using NFC technology internationally

The largest mobile operators in China, Japan, and Korea have agreed on common standards for touch-card technology, clearing the way for travellers across East Asia to user their phones for travel and payments.

China Mobile, Japan's NTT DoCoMo, and Korea's KT said published requirements on Monday for "international roaming" with NFC (near field communication) services. The white paper on NFC roaming was released at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where NTT DoCoMo also demonstrated prototype services based on roaming.

NFC is emerging as an e-payment standard because it requires little setup by the user and is easy to understand, requiring a physical tap to process a payment. The technology can only transfer data at ranges of 10 centimeters or less. On mobile phones, billing can be incorporated into call and subscription charges, so no new sign up is required.

The roaming service could replace something most travelers are familiar with: trying to sort out unfamiliar coins and make payment in a store.

Japan has enthusiastically adopted NFC services. Readers can be found in most phones on the market and thousands of stores and public transport networks have NFC terminals that allow consumers to pay for goods and travel by using an app in their phones.

But Japan's fast adoption has also led it down a different technology path than its neighbors. The country has standardized on Felica, an NFC format developed by Sony, but South Korea and China have adopted the international "type A" NFC technology. DoCoMo has begun adding NFC chips based on "type A" and a second standard, "type B," to its new phones and that provides the base for seamless international use, said Akio Gouda from DoCoMo's communication device development department.

The company demonstrated payments from a Japanese cell phone on a South Korean payment terminal. The Japanese phone was running the "CardBee" Android app, which is a Korean electronic payment platform. In October, DoCoMo and KT said they agreed to develop a cross-border e-money service based on NFC.

DoCoMo is also taking its payments global by linking its "ID" credit card payment service with PayPass, the NFC payment system operated by MasterCard.

Both the roaming services are expected to be available to consumers before the end of September, said Gouda.

Together, the three carriers involved in the trial have nearly 800 million subscribers, although many of those are China Mobile subscribers on slower networks using feature phones. They have been working on NFC roaming since early 2011.

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Tags NTT DoCoMoKTMWCtelecommunicationCarrierschina mobilemobile

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