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Sony says ME is 'starting' to adopt contactless technology

Exec talks about the use and benefits of Sony FeliCa technology at Hong Kong tradeshow

Sony's FeliCa contactless IC card technology, which is widely used in mass transit systems in Asia, is only just gaining ground in the Middle East.
Sony's FeliCa contactless IC card technology, which is widely used in mass transit systems in Asia, is only just gaining ground in the Middle East.

Hong Kong: The adoption of contactless technology in the Middle East has only just started, says Steven Currie, deputy general manager of Sony's FeliCa business division.

In his presentation at the Hong Kong International ICT Expo, which is taking place in conjunction with the Spring edition of the Hong Kong Electronics Expo, Currie spoke about how Sony developed the FeliCa contactless IC card technology that has been adopted by different countries around the world.

Sony's FeliCa card, which is capable of sending and receiving data at high speeds, has been in development since 1988 and is designed for multiple purposes including ticketing for transportation and rail systems, e-money and e-commerce transactions, as well as membership and personal identification.

In 1997, FeliCa was first used in Hong Kong's Octopus cards for automatic fare collection with the Mass Transit Railway system. Its use expanded over the years and is now used on all forms of public transport in the country including buses, island ferries and several retail and convenience stores. At the beginning of 2010, there were more than 20 million Octopus cards and products in circulation in Hong Kong.

FeliCa's technology has since been incorporated with public transport systems in other countries and cities including Singapore, Delhi and Bangkok. It's not all about transportation cards though, with FeliCa technology being used in mobile phone chips to make use of different e-services.

Mobile FeliCa chips were only introduced in 2004 but quickly became popular in Asian countries, especially Japan where 78% of all handset manufacturers including LG and Sony, now include a FeliCa IC chip. More than 100 FeliCa-related services are offered to users such as e-ticketing for concerts and tradeshows, e-mail notification to parents when their children pass through train stations as well as general e-money use at different retail outlets.

At present, almost half Japan's population (64 million subscribers) have a mobile phone with a FeliCa chip, with almost all of the country's mobile operators offering contactless technology services.

While the trend has made an obvious impact in Asia, it's yet to make its presence felt in the Middle East.

According to Currie, the Gulf region is only now starting to look at contactless technology and its benefits, driven by two motivating factors - opportunities in transportation as evident with the Dubai Metro and Abu Dhabi's planned equivalent, as well as government-related applications such as the National ID programme.

"It's a new territory and one that we are very interested to look at to develop business with the Middle East", Currie said without revealing a specific time frame for when the company plans to enter the local market with its products and services.