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Picture this: Tickets on your cell phone

Say hello to "m-commerce." A leading venue in Sydney, Australia, is testing technology that sends concert tickets to patrons' mobile phones as picture messages.

A new "m-commerce" service has moved to exploit existing bar-code scanning and mobile-handset technology, and one of Australia's premier venues is poised to use it to process payment for a forthcoming series of concerts.

The patented technology, "mobi-tickets," was licensed by Aura Digital Communications from U.K. company Mobiqa for distribution in Asia-Pacific. It sends a bar code to a mobile phone as a picture message, which can then be scanned by a typical point-of-sale system.

The bar code can be displayed on any handset that can view picture messaging, which accounts for about 80 percent of the market, according to Aura director Adam Dunne. Because there are two standards for mobile picture messaging--Nokia Smart Messaging and Sony's Enhanced Message Service--the message is sent in both formats, and special "sniffer" technology works out which is the appropriate format. If the handset cannot display picture messages, a unique number is sent, which is manually keyed in by the staff.

Mobi-tickets will be launched next month at The Metro Theatre in Sydney, which will use the method to deliver tickets to performances by Magic Dirt, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Frames and Killing Joke.

"The patrons will receive an SMS containing a bar code, called a mobi-ticket, with confirmation of ticket and event details," said Dunne, referring to the Short Message Service, a technology that lets cell phones send or receive a type of e-mail. "At the point of entry, the bar code on their mobile phone will be scanned by the ticket attendant using Denso scanning hardware."

Leo Crawford, entertainment manager of The Metro, said that mobi-tickets "can be delivered to the customer within minutes of the booking being made, and can be cancelled and reissued effortlessly. This technology is set to become mainstream in the ticketing business."

Aura plans to launch the product in Melbourne and New Zealand later this year, and in countries throughout Southeast Asia next year. The mobile technology services company is also working with local retail chains to deliver promotions based on the technology.

James Pearce of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.