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Motorola to launch new mobile-wallet service

If company has its way, North America will follow Japan in paying bills with cell phones.

Cell phones, which are already threatening digital music players, video-game consoles and digital planners, could also replace credit cards, if Motorola has its way.

Under a new service announced by Motorola on Wednesday, people can use cell phones equipped with a specific chip to pay bills, simply by passing their handsets over scanners at the cash register.

The roots of the new M-Wallet service, which is coming to North America, are in Japan, where companies like Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo began issuing mobile wallets two years ago. Offering such services is another way mobile carriers can boost profits, analysts have predicted. But such services must convince the public to trust wireless technology to safeguard their financial information--and that hasn't been an easy sell.

Wells Fargo shuttered its wireless service in 2002. Nokia teamed up with a group of companies to launch Meridea Financial Software, which develops software to let banks offer services over mobile devices. Little has come from such ventures.

The M-Wallet service initially will allow cell phone users to do banking chores and to pay bills at participating retailers. A new chip that's six to nine months from release will let people use their handset to pay for items anywhere a scanner is used--provided the scanner has been upgraded.

The M-Wallet service will be compatible with any cell phone or network, Motorola said.

"Mobile phones are no longer just about conducting conversations; they are now emerging as a center of people's lives for everyday transactions," Navin Mehta, Motorola's vice president of applications management, said in a statement.