SmartGo Staple: a smart Mobile Suica solution for COVID era business travel

As more companies transition work style away from daily commuting to a central office to telework with direct business trips from home, there is less need for commuter passes but that means more corporate virtual paperwork and paper trails for filing and processing transit expenses. How nice it would be if Mobile Suica had a plug-in for SF expense reporting. It does actually: SmartGo Staple a co-venture between JR East and NTT Communications.

The service is straightforward: for a ¥1,000 (w/VISA) or ¥600 (w/o) per Mobile ID monthly service fee, SmartGo Staple provides live Mobile Suica ID SF transaction data of registered accounts to corporate management and accounting, who then calculate and reimburse employee on the go, or teleworking at home for corporate related Mobile Suica use, reducing the paperwork at all levels. The flexibility of Mobile Suica and Suica App which discretely attaches a credit card to a Suica card, allows users to set up a Suica card just for corporate use with a corporate credit card. This is the idea behind the SmartGo Staple prepaid VISA card option which management can ‘recharge’ remotely.

It’s a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use, one mobile transit card does it all. There are still weak spots, i.e. non SF Suica ID # attached services like smartEX and Shinkansen eTickets. Using a transit card ID number to attach separate services is flexible but corralling all the separate transaction histories into one expense report is still a chore.

The Super Suica Reference

The new features that make up 2 in 1 Suica are called many things. JR East calls it ‘Next Generation Suica’ and ‘2 in 1 Region Affiliate Card’. Yanik Mangan came up with a great ‘All-in-one Suica’ moniker in his limitless possibilities podcast. I call it, and will continue to call it, Super Suica because I see wider Suica platform initiatives built off the new FeliCa OS features used for 2 in 1 • next generation Suica. It’s a looser, fuzzier platform evolution definition compared to Yanik’s tighter all-in-one card solution focused one.

That doesn’t mean that Super Suica or all-in-one Suica will ever happen they way we envision it, but at least we have some convenient handles to discuss and categorize ongoing developments until something official comes along.

This is a list of announcements, launches and posts related to Super Suica as a platform. Announcements are italic with links to JR Group PR releases, launches are bold, color classifications are as follows:

🟩= Suica cards and Transit IC region extensions
🟧= Mobile FeliCa, Mobile Suica + derivations (Mobile PASMO, Mobile ICOCA)
🟥= FeliCa Standard SD2• New FeliCa OS
🟦= Cloud Suica and cloud account services

DateCategory • Announcement** • Launch*Estimated Start
September 2018🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 • FeliCa Standard SD2**2021
June 2019🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 for Tochigi**
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica**
2021~2
2021
September 2019🟩🟥Cross Region Commuter Passes for ICOCA-TOICA-Suica**2021
October 2019🟧Mobile PASMO** (rebranded Mobile Suica)2021
December 2019🟥🟧UWB Touchless Mobile FeliCa**2022~3?
January 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate Green Pass (Iwate)**
🟧Mobile PASMO**
2021
March 2020🟧Mobile PASMO for Osaifu Keitai*
🟦Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service*
May 2020🟧Garmin Pay Suica*
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica*
September 2020🟥FeliCa Standard SD2 cards with new FeliCa OS features*
November 2020🟧wena 3 (smartwatch+band) Suica *
October 2020🟧Apple Pay PASMO*
🟧Mobile ICOCA**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Hachinohe**

2023
2022
2022
November 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Aomori**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Akita**
2022
January 2021🟩Cross Region Commuter ICOCA-TOICA-Suica launch details** with TOICA and ICOCA region extensions (TOICA extensions explicitly for cross region pass support) March 2021
March 2021🟩🟥Cross Region Commuter Passes for ICOCA-TOICA-Suica*
🟩Cross region exit gates installed at Maibara and Atami stations*
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 totra and Iwate Green Pass*
🟧Fitbit Pay Suica launch
*
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Yamagata announcement**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Gunma announcement (Noblé)**




2022
2022
April 2021🟦🟩Cloud Suica with Suica region extension announcement**
🟦 Eki-Net reboot: more cloud based attached services and JRE POINT integration
2023
2021

🟩🟥Next Generation Suica cards
A new card for integrating Transit IC and region cards in new ways focusing on Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate transit cards and FeliCa Standard SD2 • FeliCa OS as the core development. JR Cross Region Commuter Passes included as I suspect they also use SD2 Extended Overlap and represent a step towards cross region through transit for Transit IC.

🟧Mobile
The evolution of Mobile FeliCa to include UWB touchless and multiple secure element domains, Mobile Suica service expansion and re-branded assets for Mobile PASMO and Mobile ICOCA.

🟦Cloud
Cloud Suica: a cloud based fare transaction processing and MaaS Suica payment services without a reader, cloud account attached services.

Eki-Net getting reboot with multilingual support

Well, finally. JR East Eki-Net is getting the makeover I complained about when Shinkansen eTicket service and the mobile app launched just a year ago. On June 27 Eki-Net gets a badly needed re-boot with multi-lingual support, JRE POINT support, more Shinkansen eTicket discounts, inbound discount ticket support, a new UI and more. Here’s a quick look.

JRE POINT Integration
There are so many goodies in the update it’s hard to find a starting place. For many people the integration of JRE POINT is big, it replaces the old separate Eki-Net point system and greatly expands the usefulness of JRE POINT with reward points with ticket purchases and point exchanges for eTickets, upgrades, etc.

Cloud attached ticketing
JR East migrated Mobile Suica Shinkansen tickets to the new eTicket service in 2020 that uses the same Transit IC card number attachment scheme of smartEX. JR East also uses it to attach inbound discount ticketing and passes to Welcome Suica. Expect more Eki-Net domestic discount ticketing and pass options for purchase and attachment to any registered Transit IC card. Drawbacks that I see: (1) yet another account and credit card registration process in a long cluttered line of separate JR East account services (Suica App, JRE POINT, Eki-Net, etc.), (2) Outside of Suica App there is no Apple Pay in-app support for ticket purchases, (3) As always, if your Apple Pay Suica ID number changes you have to re-register it.

QR Code for group ticket pickup
This is a handy feature for group or family travel. Mom can buy tickets online, mail the QR code to the kids, kids pickup the tickets at the station kiosk and travel home for college breaks, etc. At least that’s the idea when we all start traveling again, whenever that is. Seriously though I think this will be convenient and greatly appreciated.

Multilingual and JR East Train Reservation support
English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, French, German, Spanish, Thai, Indonesian are the supported languages. Inbound discount tickets and passes can already be purchased and attached to Welcome Suica and Suica and it appears that more options are on the way. The press release is short on details but it looks like most JR East Train Reservation functions will be migrating to Eki-Net (note the graphic shows making reservations via the desktop, not with an mobile app). And if Eki-Net is going multilingual, Suica App is close behind.

UI Improvements
One of my biggest grips was the funhouse horror of using Eki-Net desktop. So many options, so poorly arranged and hidden. The current mobile browser Eki-Net is already better and it’s going to get better still with improved eTicket reservations, seat maps, ticket price comparisons, etc. The Eki-Net app is getting improvements too but I suspect the app functions will remain limited to Shinkansen eTickets and Express Train ticketless seat reservations.

There is lots more to dig into when time allows. I’ll be very interested to see the online reaction to Eki-Net discounts and reward point schedules posted at the end of the press release. Japanese customers are ruthlessly efficient at mining the good values and dumping on the junk. This is just the first pass and there will be much more as June approaches. Eki-Net will be down from June 26 20:00~ June 27 5:00 for the big refresh. Expect launch day snags and delays like the recent Mobile Suica refresh. The only thing I don’t look forward to: updating JR POINT Guide for the new point exchange functions.

Mobile Suica Lite

With the proliferation of wearables JR East has been busy adding new devices to Mobile Suica. A timeline:

  • 2006: Mobile Suica for Osaifu Keitai
  • 2016: Apple Pay Suica for iPhone and Apple Watch
  • 2018: Google Pay Suica for Android Osaifu Keitai
  • 2020: Garmin Pay Suica, wena 3 Suica
  • 2021: Fitbit Pay Suica

The first hardware standard for Mobile Suica was Osaifu Keitai first on Symbian feature phones in 2006 followed by Android in 2013. This is the basic FeliCa chip in phone approach.

Apple Pay Suica in 2016 brought a new hardware model: a Apple custom embedded secure element (eSE) with licensed Mobile FeliCa for iPhone and Apple Watch. Pixel 3 and later models employ a somewhat similar arrangement using NXP multi-protocol NFC controllers with preinstalled Mobile FeliCa but Osaifu Keitai software is only activated on Japanese Pixel models.

A shortcoming of the Osaifu Keitai standard is that it only works on Osaifu Keitai ready Android smartphones. In 2016 Google released the HCE-F specification for Android 7.0. Japanese tech media at the time assumed HCE-F would become widespread for delivering FeliCa services to low-end Android devices without Osaifu Keitai support but that didn’t happen. As FeliCa Dude points out, “HCE-F is not useful for emulating existing FeliCa cards because the API has been needlessly crippled.” The HCE strategy is questionable and comes with security risks. In the pre-Apple Pay, pre-Google Pay era it seemed like a viable path, but things haven’t panned out in the embedded secure element era of today.

So how does JR East host Gamin Pay Suica, wena 3 Suica and Fitbit Charge 4 Suica wearables without Osaifu Keitai? The answer is what I call Mobile Suica Lite, a prepackaged service that supports some basic Mobile Suica features but has limitations:

  • New digital issue of regular non-registered Suica cards only, no transfer of plastic Suica cards.
  • No transfer of Suica to new devices
  • Deleting Suica from the device comes with a SF balance refund option (¥200 service fee + transfer to a Japanese bank account) but once the card is deleted it is gone forever.
  • No supplemental Suica services
  • Google Pay recharge backend

For wearables in the COVID era with teleworking and less reliance on commuter passes, Mobile Suica Lite is surprisingly useful despite the limitations. If you migrate to a new wearable simply run the SF balance down to zero, delete the old card, then issue a new digital card on the new device.

How exactly is JR East doing this? We know for certain that it is not Osaifu Keitai or HCE-F. My theory is we are witnessing Mobile FeliCa Cloud in action. According to FeliCa Networks Mobile FeliCa Cloud is:

…a service platform that connects NFC FeliCa Devices with Mobile FeliCa services. With Mobile FeliCa Cloud, the seamless provision of Mobile FeliCa services becomes possible regardless of OS or platform for smartphones and wearable devices…

What is a ‘NFC FeliCa’ device exactly? All NFC certified devices must support NFC-A, NFC-B and NFC-F. Any Global Platform certified secure element on a device also supports Mobile FeliCa. I suspect that any manufacturer with NFC and Global Platform certifications can pick Mobile FeliCa Cloud services à la cart from FeliCa Networks: i.e. I’ll have a Mobile Suica lite with a side order of Rakuten Edy but hold the iD.

Mobile FeliCa Cloud doesn’t come with all the Osaifu Keitai bells and whistles, but it also streamlines and eliminates Osaifu Keitai support headaches with prepackaged services. A Mobile FeliCa lite option for lite wearables…I hope we see more of it on more devices with more services.

Cloud Suica and Suica region extensions announced for early 2023

JR East announced cloud based Suica and extended coverage for the Tohoku region, going online with 44 stations in early 2023 and closing some major service gaps around the same time that Mobile ICOCA is due to launch. This same cloud system is expected to drive JR East QR closed loop ticketing and MaaS Suica based services and also syncs with the Mobile ICOCA aim of delivering MaaS services in the JR West region.

You might think that JR East has installed Suica gates in every station but this is not the case: as of 2018 Suica is installed in roughly half of JR East’s 1667 stations with these station additions the first in more than 4 years. The reason is cost. Unmanned stations have simple Suica validators but the cost of hard wiring these to the Suica data center is an obstacle. Fast local processing is one of the advantages of Suica but the dedicated network backbone costs for linking and syncing with JR East servers doesn’t come cheap.

The new internet cloud based Suica backend will calculate fares centrally rather than on each gate. The trade off is slightly slower speeds with the benefit of lower installation and maintenance costs so that Suica can easily be installed anywhere. Japanese tech journalist Junya Suzuki tweeted that probably half of Suica transaction processing would remain local with half of the fare processing in Suica cloud. This means the local Suica card SF transaction is partially offloaded by the gate to a distributed closed loop fare processing network via a fast reliable internet connection. It also means that stations with heavy traffic keep fare processing on the gate.

Previously JR East had said they expect to reach 100% Suica deployment with Cloud Suica in the 2021 fiscal year (ending March 2021) and hope to sell it internationally. The program is running over a year late and the first step will be getting the new system to JR Group companies (JR West, JR Central, JR Kyushu, JR Hokkaido) before going international.

Related posts
Cloud Suica and the next generation Suica architecture
2 in 1 Suica Region Affiliate Cards