Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finns Rent, Trade and Have a Snack -- All by Phone Country Leads the World in 'Telephony'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finns Rent, Trade and Have a Snack -- All by Phone Country Leads the World in 'Telephony'

Article excerpt

HELSINKI, Finland -- Reija Myllynen stood before a vending machine in a downtown shopping center and pressed 0600-80031, the number for Dial-a-Chocolate, twice on her mobile phone.

Seconds later, two Twix bars tumbled off a shelf in the machine. Reija reached in, snapped them up, and smiled. She was rushing to her after-school job at a calling center, short of cash and hungry.

"This is lunch," she said. "It doesn't cost much more than in a shop, but it's a very easy way to get something to eat."

A bona fide Dial-a-Chocoholic, Myllynen estimates that she stops here at least twice a week. The $1.50 cost of the two chocolate bars will show up on her mobile phone bill at the end of the month, along with a charge for the telephone airtime.

In Finland, home of Nokia and veritable cell-phone capital of the world, a phone is not just a phone. It is a credit card, a menu, a stock ticker, and an entertainment center. It is a passport to the future.

By pressing their phones' buttons and reading text messages on their tiny screens, Finns can transfer money in their bank accounts, trade stocks, buy cappuccino, rent videos, order flowers, and plug the parking meter.

In the brave new world of telephony, Finland clearly leads the world.

"The U.S. is definitely behind in transaction-related services and applications," said Sarah Kim, an analyst at the Yankee Group, a technology and research consulting firm based in Boston.

While the services so common in Finland aren't in major trials here yet, analysts say, it's probably just a matter of time.

NEVER GO OUT WITHOUT IT

Finnish television producer Timo T.A. Mikkonen never leaves home without his mobile phone. He has to take his blue van, full of equipment, to several locations each day. Under a program run by PayWay, a unit of the same company that lets Finns dial up a chocolate bar, Mokkonen can pay for downtown parking by mobile phone.

After finding a space on the main esplanade in Helsinki the other day, he looked up at a nearby sign, whipped out his phone, and dialed the designated number, and the space was his for 60 minutes. When time ran out, he let his fingers do the walking to extend his time without leaving his filming location.

"You don't have to have any coins around, which is a hell of a thing to have to be looking for while driving around looking for parking," Mikkonen said.

Still to come are pizza delivery, movie tickets, bus tickets, and "any service or product used daily," said a spokeswoman for Sonera Corp., which operates the PayWay program and 500 phone-friendly vending machines around the country.

And don't forget loyal-customer rewards. Finland's biggest bank, its biggest mobile phone maker, and VISA International joined forces to install in mobile phones a second microchip that will combine the functions of credit cards, debit cards, and consumer-loyalty programs. …

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