Rakuten and DoCoMo plan auction platform

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A joint venture between online retailer Rakuten and Japan’s largest mobile phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, is aiming to allow customers to bid in anonymous auctions while on the move.

Rakuten Auction, as the new trading platform will be known, is due to begin operations on mobile phones this time next week. It has set a target of Y400bn ($3.4bn) in annual transactions by 2010.

Using the service, buyers and sellers in mobile phone auctions will be able, for the first time, to conduct the entire process without exchanging personal details. Rakuten hopes the innovation of anonymity will attract 15m users – particularly commuters – to its online auctions.

The service will be available to the 29m subscribers to NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode portal. It is also expected to exploit the company’s strength in mobile payment systems.

Earlier this year DoCoMo unveiled a service that, in effect, tied a mobile phone handset into its user’s credit card. The company said at the time this service would be particularly appropriate for online shopping and other transactions.

Telecoms analysts interpreted the move by DoCoMo and Rakuten as a reprisal to the tie-up, announced last week, between Softbank Mobile and online community website MySpace.

That deal was itself a response to the success of Mixi, a home-grown social networking site that has more than 10m Japanese members.

MySpace and Softbank Mobile are understood to be planning to export the MySpace community in Japan on to mobile phones – a move that could dramatically expand data traffic for the former Vodafone Japan unit.

The MySpace model creates virtual communities of people who share interests such as travel, films and video games. Analysts expect the Rakuten Auction service to create “communities of commerce” that are likely to fit better into the habits and interests of young Japanese.

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