Is Suica ‘all-in-one’ possible?

Now that Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate transit cards are out, it’s time to examine the question that Yanik Magnan posed in his limitless possibility podcast: is Suica all-in-one possible? He defines it as follows: “All-in-one in my case would mean all Transit IC and local area transit members sharing the same physical card as a common container for their data, I’m assuming (maybe incorrectly?) that Suica + PASMO on the same card would be possible through whatever totra is doing.”

In my initial Super Suica coverage I outlined all-in-one possibilities beyond the Suica 2 in 1 Region card program and called it ‘Super Suica’ to capture that idea. Unfortunately, and as Yanik points out, I forgot an important aspect: Suica and sister Transit IC cards all use the same FeliCa technology but have their own data formats. That was an oversight. Nevertheless I think we agree, so I’m retiring Super Suica in favor of Yanik’s Suica ‘all-in-one’ moniker. Here is a grab bag of various pieces that hopefully add up to an quick overview, with Suica all-in-one as a platform of technologies that others can build off of, instead of a specific transit card.

FeliCa Enhancements
Since November 2020 we’ve seen a number of FeliCa enhancements: (1) FeliCa Standard SD2, (2) Mobile FeliCa Multiple Secure Element Domains that support non-FeliCa protocols and, (3) Mobile FeliCa Ultra Wideband Touchless. The most important of these right now is SD2 because it’s a real shipping product with Extended Overlap Service and Value-Limited Purse Service. TagInfo scans of the newly released totra 2 in 1 Suica Region Affiliate transit card reveal Extended Overlap in action. The card itself shows 2 issue numbers on the back, one from JR East who own the SF (stored fare) purse and one for the region operator who own the overall card. That JR East owns the Suica 2 in 1 card SF and float is…interesting and offers a clue as to what’s going on behind the scenes.

FeliCa Standard SD2 powered totra Suica has 2 card numbers

Float Gloat
Who owns the SF purse float, how it works on the reader side and as a business model are the big issues. Here’s an example: I suspect SD2 Extended Overlap might also be used in the new Suica-TOICA-ICOCA cross region commuter passes as those cannot be issued on current plastic and require an upgrade trip to the nearest JR station. We won’t know for sure until we get a TagInfo scan of the new physical card but let’s pretend for a bit.

Say a TOICA user purchases a cross region commuter pass from Numazu (TOICA) to Odawara (Suica) for regular non-Shinkansen transit. In this case the cross region solution is easy and acceptable to all JR companies because each transit card issuer owns the SF purse, in this case JR Central. The same applies to JR East when issuing the same commute pass route for Suica. The same scenario would likely be acceptable to all Transit IC companies, sharing a common physical card as a common container for their data, but only if the SF purse ownership was clearly defined as it is in totra Suica so it works on the reader side: this is Suica SF, this is a ICOCA SF, etc., otherwise the reader doesn’t know which one to use.

In other words, let’s 2 in 1 and all-in-one for the shared resources like points, commuter passes and special discount fares for elderly and disabled users, but the SF purse is not shared for 2 in 1 or anything else. Common data format, yes. Common shared SF purse, no. At the end of the day you can’t have a Suica and a PASMO on the same card as the reader won’t know which one to use. We’ll see if Extended Overlap and Value-Limited Purse solves this wanna have cake and eat it too Transit IC dilemma. Sony is now shipping FeliCa Standard SD2 antenna module chips for the reader side of the equation so readers will be getting smarter and evolve too. That’s how I see it for Suica all-in-one, Transit IC and mobile, a gradual evolution.

Mobile hardware barriers
On the mobile front we have a smartphone hardware barrier: the Mobile PASMO Osaifu Keitai Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, mess landed on Mobile Suica with addition of multiple Mobile Suica cards on March 21. Only Osaifu Keitai Type 1 devices can handle multiple Suica and PASMO cards.

This has implications for Mobile FeliCa features such as the Japanese Government My Number Digital Card and UWB Touchless digital car keys. Mobile FeliCa 4.0 and later on Pixel devices indicate the ability to upgrade FeliCa JAVA Card applets and even Mobile FeliCa itself. Whether Android device makers will actually use this OTA ability is a mystery. To date the standard industry practice has been if you want new features, you buy a new device.

And then there is Apple. iPhone 7 JP models that support Suica do not support PASMO, UWB is only available on iPhone 11 and later, and so on. There is no guarantee that Apple will update, say iPhone 11 models, for UWB Touchless, Mobile FeliCa My Number Digital cards or even Suica 2 in 1, if and when the format comes to Mobile Suica.

We’ll see what FeliCa Dude has to say about the all-in-one subject, hopefully in a future Reddit post. It may take a while but worth the wait.

I’m sticking with Super Suica. Yanik’s All-in-one take is a great name focused on the 2 in 1 card architecture that fits all of Transit IC on a single card. My Super Suica take is a wider set of developing platform initiatives. Yanik’s feedback was valuable in forcing me to review my posts and define Super Suica as a platform, I thank him for it.

Multiple Secure Element domains for Mobile FeliCa 4.1

FeliCa Dude posted a series of deeply interesting tweets relating to Mobile FeliCa 4.1 changes. He had earlier complained of Mobile PASMO lack of Pixel 5 support and it now appears that multiple Secure Element domain support in Mobile FeliCa 4.1 was a reason for that delay. This is an fascinating development but what is it there for?

On a Mobile FeliCa 4.1 Google Pixel device Google has it’s own secure element domain

I assume his tweeted profile is for a Pixel device, hence the FeliCa Networks secure element (SE) + Google SE references. In this context it appears that Google ‘owns’ the Mobile FeliCa SE and which applets load, in other works FeliCa Networks needs permission from Google to load applets on a Google device SE. Devices come pre-loaded as always so customers simply use it out of the box, but the implication is that FeliCa Networks and the SE domain ‘owner’ can load/delete Java Card applets and even update Mobile FeliCa over the air. Whether they actually use this functionality or not is another story.

FeliCa Dude thinks multiple secure element domains are also there to support Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card) for smartphones using the Mobile FeliCa eSE, even though the current plastic card uses NFC-B. It’s strange but exciting to ponder the possibilities of a Mobile FeliCa 4.1 secure element that supports non-FeliCa protocols.

One of the big changes of Mobile FeliCa 4.0 was that it introduced loading a FeliCa applet on any approved secure element. This change frees Android device manufacturers from having to purchase FeliCa chips from the FeliCa Networks supply chain. It basically gives Android devices the same custom secure element arrangement Apple has had since the iPhone 7 Apple Japan Pay launch in 2016.

I asked FeliCa Dude if the Mobile FeliCa 4.1 development is also related to next generation FeliCa feature support used for Suica 2 in1 cards coming this month, in particular the new Extended Overlap Service. He says this is unlikely but I hope we discover other pleasant surprises as intrepid explorers dig into Mobile FeliCa 4.1 details.

MIC digital My Number Card proposal for smartphones

Japan MIC in discussions with Apple for Wallet My Number Card Support

IT journalist Junya Suzuki posted an interesting “Pay Attention” column today regarding the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card). MIC wants to extend card use and smartphone support for a digital My Number Card is seen as an important driver as many people in Japan have yet to even get the plastic version at the local city office. Japanese government officials stated they planned to create a digital My Number Card in 2019.

MIC digital My Number Card proposal for smartphones

The MIC proposal for putting out a digital My Number Card uses FeliCa and laid out security policy details on November 12 (download the full set of PDF docs). Smartphone support requires a ‘Global FeliCa’ embedded Secure Element (eSE). This means SIM card FeliCa support is out of the question, the reality is SIM cards lost out in the ‘secure element wars’ years ago. Some 80% of Android smartphones currently sold in Japan have FeliCa eSE chips, Apple has had global FeliCa (aka global NFC) in place in A/S series chips since iPhone 8 / Apple Watch Series 3. Apple Watch will likely be the only ‘wearable’ My Number Card when it launches.

今回Android端末が対象となっていますが、Android端末といってもいわゆる『グローバルFeliCa』と呼ばれる2018年度に発表された新しい方式に対応した端末が対象となっています。2020年秋モデルで対象となるAndroid端末は8割程度ですが、2022年内のサービス開始時点ではさらに拡大することを見越しています。 FeliCaを採用した理由は、スマートフォンの保護領域(SE)に安全にアクセスできる仕組みを提供しているのがフェリカネットワークという点で、同様の仕組みが提供されるのであれば特にFeliCaにこだわっているわけではありません。 またiPhoneが日本でシェアを多く持っているという現状も認識しており、Appleと交渉を行なっている段階です(総務省)

Deciphering Digital My Number Card Support (Japanese)

Suzuki’s article has a direct quote (above) from the MIC, the relevant Apple bit is the last sentence: “We recognize that iPhone has a large share in Japan and we are in discussions with Apple.” Not particularly earthshaking but confirmation is always good to have. The digital My Number Card is expected to launch in 2022 but it’s not clear if Apple Wallet support will launch simultaneously with Osaifu Keitai Android. The digital My Number Card MIC documents only outline Osaifu Keitai Android with dedicated FeliCa chips but Apple Pay would work the same way even though the FeliCa eSE is implemented in the A/S Series.

Suzuki san does not discuss this but I wonder if digital My Number Card will utilize the new security features of next generation FeliCa that just started shipping and is the basis for Suica 2 in 1 launching March 2021. I also wonder if Google Wallet support will come much later, if at all. Google has been content to ride the coat tails of Osaifu Keitai and candy wrap it instead of rolling their own native support. That strategy likely won’t work for direct My Number Card support in Google Wallet.