NFC Turns 10

Keitai Tap and Pay

TOKYO, JAPAN, June 16, 2004 — NTT DoCoMo, Inc. and its eight regional subsidiaries today announced the July 2004 launch of the i-mode® FeliCa® Service for mobile wallet applications […] DoCoMo’s revolutionary new service and smart-card handsets can be used for a variety of unprecedented functions, including train pass, debit card (electronic money), credit card and personal identification card, applications previously possible only with IC-equipped cards.

The above DoCoMo press release was linked to in a 10th anniversary post about NFC—insofar as it relates to mobile payments—by Wireless Watch Japan. If you’re not familiar with the technology, here’s a quick video demo:

So, where are we after 10 years? A typical challenge to get good numbers, best effort figures indicate +90 Million active NFC handsets in Japan with 1.8 Million point of sale locations. One well-placed source has indicated weekly active users are hovering just above the 30% ratio…

30 million active users of mobile tap-and-pay… That’s fairly impressive, and certainly a far cry from the situation here in the Americas—just last month ReadWrite ran a story entitled “Let’s Face Facts: Mobile Wallets Are Doomed“. I’ve already bitched and moaned on these forums about the sad state of affairs in Canada; the situation sounds pretty much the same south of the border:

The payments system in the United States is a mess of entrenched interests, fragmented business opportunities, old infrastructure (like point-of-sale systems), back room handshakes and cut throat competition.

A quick reminder: According to Forbes the single, most popular system for mobile payments in the USA (likely Canada too) is the Starbucks app, with a user base of 10 million customers. There’s clearly a market for mobile-based payment systems here; just don’t expect our carriers and banks to make things any easier any time soon.

If you really want to get your blood boiling, have a quick read-through of some sound bites from a recent panel on digital wallets. A sample quote:

Of any market around the world, Canada is uniquely positioned to be successful in this space…

Picard Facepalm

At any rate, Happy 10th Birthday NFC. Maybe in another ten years we’ll finally figure you out.