This summer, NTT DoCoMo customers in Tokyo will have the option of using their cellular phones to get some relief from the sweltering heat. Japan's largest mobile-phone operator said Wednesday that it has joined the Japanese unit of the world's biggest soft-drink company, Coca-Cola Co., in testing a system that will enable I-mode phone users to buy drinks from vending machines. Trading firm Itochu Corp. will develop the service and technology and help with market development. The companies will begin trials in Tokyo this summer.
"It's the early days, and you can tell from the trial that they're testing out a number of ways to make money from this," says Yankee Group analyst Adam Zawel. "DoCoMo obviously has the subscriber base to make a trial like this worthwhile. This sounds like an experiment where the next stage can be very different [from the trial]."
DoCoMo, which in two years has amassed 20 million users in Japan, plans to deliver advertising and local information to users either through a display or printer installed in the vending machine. Customers will have to set up a prepaid account before buying the drinks. Because DoCoMo's I-mode phones connect to the Internet inexpensively and are easy to use, experts say, the phones are a good vehicle for this kind of service.
DoCoMo shares rose 1.7% to 2.39 million yen in Tokyo and Itochu closed up 4.86% at 475, in line with continued gains in the Tokyo stock market. Coca-Cola shares closed in New York at $45.95, down 0.66.
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