Use your cellphone to buy a Coke

Thirsty users in Singapore can now buy drinks from vending machines using their mobile phones, Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) and F&N Coca Cola (Singapore) announced this week.

          Thirsty users in Singapore can now buy drinks from vending machines using their mobile phones, Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) and F&N Coca Cola (Singapore) announced this week.

          Subscribers to SingTel's cellular network will be able to use the new service, unveiled at the Communicasia show, which began in Singapore yesterday.

          The service can be used in one of two ways. Users either punch a star followed by a six-digit machine identity number and press the call button, or send an SMS (short message service) mail. Once the machine receives the call or mail and identifies the caller, money is deposited into the machine and the user is then left to simply make a choice and get his drink.

          "We are planning to launch the service commercially in August," says Luanne Teng, assistant sales manager for Coca Cola in Singapore. "We have around 8000 machines in Singapore although at first we will be targeting certain areas," she says, speaking at the Communicasia show.

          To avoid possible quarrels among cellphone users near each machine, the last three digits of the telephone number that deposited the cash will be displayed by the machine, she adds. If users change their mind about making a purchase, they just need to wait around 10 seconds and the machine will automatically cancel the deposit.

          Once a selection is made, the machine reports back to SingTel that the transaction was successful and the charge is added to the user's mobile bill, says Alfred Au Ko Chin, marketing manager for SingTel's corporate business group. The company does not collect a commission on the orders but makes its money from the telephone calls or SMS messages sent to initiate the purchase, he says.

          The service is restricted to users of SingTel's mobile network, including visitors from overseas who are roaming on the network, says Chin. Many of Coca Cola's vending machines in Singapore also accept cash and electronic money cards.

          Earlier this year Coca Cola (Japan) announced plans to begin testing a similar service in Japan with NTT DoCoMo.

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