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Carrier turns cell phones into wallets

NTT DoCoMo launches a service that lets people make credit card transactions and bank withdrawals via a handset.

Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo has launched a service for smart-card handsets that lets customers use their cell phone as a mobile wallet.

The Felica system, introduced on Saturday, enables people to make bank withdrawals and credit card purchases or check in for some airlines' flights, among other activities. Information is transmitted from the cell phone over NTT DoCoMo's own network or is sent to a special reader attached to cash machines and cash registers.

With 46.6 million subscribers, Japan-based DoCoMo is both the world's largest cell phone provider and a breeding ground for new services that find their way into markets worldwide.

Among the phones introduced for the service is Fujitsu's F900iC, the first cell phone with an embedded smart card to work with DoCoMo's wireless broadband network, the Japanese carrier said. DoCoMo's service also works with handsets made by NEC, Panasonic, Sharp, Mitsubishi and Sony Ericsson.

The Felica system is based on the Sony smart-card technology of the same name. Smart cards are usually about the size of a credit card and contain a microchip inside that can be loaded with personal data.

All the handsets used with DoCoMo's new service run on the Symbian operating system, a company representative said on Monday.

That's not good news for Microsoft, which makes a rival operating system for smart phones that is expected to battle Symbian for the market lead throughout the coming decade. While Microsoft's smart phone software is having success in America and some parts of Europe, it has seen limited action in Japan, according to a recent market study.