The Android Police “Google Pay v1.57 prepares support for Suica” news didn’t generate much interest in Japan. Osaifu-Keitai e-wallet service has been around since 2004 on NTT Docomo phones. All 3 major Japanese carriers have offered Osaifu-Keitai and Mobile Suica on carrier branded Android phones since 2011.
As the Japanese Tweet points out, installing Google Pay v1.57 doesn’t enable Mobile Suica in Google Pay, just the same EDY and nanaco cards that Android Pay had.
Why doesn’t Google Pay v1.57 support Suica out of the box? It’s complicated because Android FeliCa support is just one part of the complex Android hardware jungle. A quick review of Mobile FeliCa support basics is helpful. Most of what follows is compiled from Reddit user FeliCa Dude posts, his comment posts are the best Mobile FeliCa English language information source on the web. Abide in the Dude!
NFC-A and NFC-F support is required for NFC Forum certification for a device. NFC means NFC-A + NFC-F. NFC-B is optional. Apple uses NXP chipsets that support NFC A-B-F
Three ways to do FeliCa
FeliCa Level 1: Basic read and write, no secure element support. All phones with NFC certification implement this.
FeliCa Level 2: The above, plus support for a FeliCa-enabled SIM that embeds a secure element to handle mutual authentication. This is what is used in Hong Kong for Octopus Mobile. A similar NFC-SIM approach is used by EZ-Link which used to be FeliCa but migrated to CEPAS (NFC B) technology in 2009.
FeliCa Level 3: Osaifu-Keitai/Mobile FeliCa. This requires an embedded secure element in the phone itself (Mobile FeliCa), with specific per-device keys issued by FeliCa Networks. Using the Osaifu-Keitai system also requires payments to NTT Docomo who co-developed the Mobile FeliCa software stack with Sony.
Three ways to embed a FeliCa secure element in a device are:
- A “Mobile FeliCa” IC from FeliCa Networks.
- A “Mobile FeliCa” SWP SIM card with applet from FeliCa Networks
- A custom vendor-specific implementation approved by FeliCa Networks (Apple Pay, Smart Octopus for Samsung Pay)
As far as I know, Apple is the only smart device maker that has licensed the entire FeliCa technology stack and ships it on every iPhone 8/X and Apple Watch 3 sold worldwide. Any user with those devices can add Apple Pay Suica and more right out of the box, a testament to Apple owning both hardware and software. Other smartphone makers choose to ship fully enabled Mobile FeliCa carrier locked models only in specific markets like Japan or Hong Kong, similar to what Apple did with iPhone 7 and Apple Watch 2.
You would think that Google’s Pixel 2 would be Global NFC ready but Google’s FeliCa HCE-F API for Android Pay is severely limited and does not support most FeliCa payment systems. The Pixel 2 does not have a FeliCa compatible embedded secure element and Google crippled NFC-SWP on the device for some reason ruling out a ‘FeliCa SIM’ approach. My money says Google did this to keep Japanese carriers happy selling full bore carrier locked Osaifu-Keitai e-wallet Android phones from Sony, Samsung, HTC, etc. Pure market politics.
Android Pay in Japan was basically a thin wrapper over the existing Osaifu-Keitai stack, a marketing trick that confused Android users into thinking they could install Android Pay on a ‘global’ Android device and get the full suite of FeliCa services: QUICPay, iD, Mobile Suica, and all. This was not the reality.
Android Pay in Japan was limited and so far it looks the same for Google Pay in Japan too. If and when Google Pay Suica arrives it will likely be on Osaifu-Keitai /Mobile FeliCa enabled locked Android devices from Japanese carriers. Global FeliCa iPhone-like out-of-the-box Mobile Suica on ‘global FeliCa’ Android devices from anywhere looks to be a long way off.
UPDATE: Google Pay Suica went live on May 24 local Japan time and turned out exactly as described above.