East Japan Railway Co. said Tuesday it will start a new service in January that allows NTT DoCoMo Inc.’s smart-card cell phone handsets to be used as train tickets.

NTT DoCoMo, which in July released “mobile wallet handsets” embedded with integrated-circuit chips developed by Sony Corp., said it expects use of the handsets to grow to 10 million by the end of March 2006 from the current 2 million.

The handsets can be used to pay for movie tickets and even as electronic apartment keys.

JR East’s new service will allow people to pay their train fares by tapping mobile phones on electronic readers mounted on ticket wickets, which is the same way JR East’s electronic cash card — the Suica card — is used.

The new handsets feature the same technology used in the Suica card, which was introduced in November 2001 and is used by more than 10 million commuters.

The technology, called FeliCa, was developed by Sony and is used by the public transportation systems of Hong Kong, China and Singapore. More than 70 million FeliCa cards have been issued worldwide, according to Sony.

JR East said the handsets will be more convenient than cards, because cash balances can be directly checked by the customer, who will no longer need to visit the ticket machines.

JR East President Mutsutake Otsuka told a joint news conference the new service may even change the appearance of railway stations by reducing the number of ticket machines and freeing up vast amounts of space for other purposes.

The new service will be designed exclusively for NTT DoCoMo’s smart-card handsets, but Otsuka did not rule out alliances with other mobile carriers.

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