Mon, Oct 02, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Feature: Use your mobile phone to learn English and pay fares

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

For 27-year-old Lucy Chen (陳靜媚), downloading ring tones and firing off text messages on her mobile phone have become part of her daily routine.

Her outlay of NT$1,500 a month on her mobile phone bill is typical in Taiwan, where on average each person is estimated to own more than one handset number.

This high level of mobile phone penetration has attracted a slew of vendors vying for a slice of the pie and eager to unveil related value-added services.

International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT), the nation's only English radio station, has been quick to cash in on the trend.

In April the station first launched its "Now" mobile service, which enables listeners to enquire about the artist and the title of the song being played on air, by simply keying in "Now" and sending it to 8086 via their handsets. Each of these SMS requests costs NT$5.

The station initiated the "Now" service in a bid to offer a real-time, convenient service to listeners, said Tim Berge, content and creativity director of ICRT.

Before that, listeners had to visit the station's Web site or call up the station to get the song lists, he said.

He did not expect the service to prove such a hit with listeners, especially teenagers, he said.

Five months after the launch of the service, the station now receives 250 to 400 SMSs per day on average for "Now," a number far exceeding the original target, he said.

Mary Yang (楊翹瑄), a 28-year-old marketing executive at a telecommunications firm, likes the immediate interaction offered by "Now."

"I often listen to radio at home or when driving, but sometimes I am not sure how to match the singer and title," she said.

She has sent in around 10 SMSs over the past two months to check out song titles.

The success of "Now" led to the launch of ICRT's "Play" and "Word" services last month.

"Play" enables users to download the hottest ring tone of the week with an SMS costing NT$20. "Word" subscribers receive an SMS every weekday, which offers them fun and practical English terms, expressions or slang, costing NT$5 per text message.

"We think the `Word' service will be especially well received as we are an English-language radio station. It is a perfect match as we can help our listeners to learn the language," Berge said.

Taipei Smart Card Corp (TSCC, 台北智慧卡票證公司) decided to make use of more sophisticated technology to jump onto the handset bandwagon.

TSCC started a small-scale trial last month to incorporate handsets with EasyCards (悠遊卡), the touch-and-go cards for commuters to pay fares on mass rapid transit trains, buses and at parking lots.

The company has opted for Near Field Communication (NFC), a new, short-range wireless connectivity technology offering simple and safe communication between electronic devices.

The technology can be used on mobile phones to allow payment or transfer information to digital cameras that send their photos to a TV set with just a touch.

"We hope the EasyCard phones will be ready for commercial launch in the middle of next year, starting from a small base," said Lee Chih-jen (李志仁), TSCC's business development department manager.

The next stage, scheduled for April, will develop combi SIM cards or incorporate micro secure digital (SD) cards into NFC mobile phones, to allow electronic purse functions such as adding value, checking credit balances and even using a handset as a debit card.

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