Why a paper ticket if an SMS will do?

New mobile phone ticketing technology could push conventional paper tickets to the sidelines at European soccer games.

New mobile phone ticketing technology could soon push paper-based tickets to the sidelines in many European soccer stadiums, ski resorts, trade shows and other large venues, according to an industry executive.

"Organizers of huge events like soccer games and trade shows are looking for ways to reduce their ticketing costs while at the same time making the service faster and more convenient for customers," said Christian Ullmann, chief executive officer of Smartmachine International Holding, in an interview on Tuesday. "We have developed mobile ticketing technology that can meet these demands far better than traditional paper tickets."

Smartmachine and its technology partner Skidata have developed a mobile ticketing system that allows customers to have a ticket sent to their mobile phone via SMS (Short Message Service) in the form of a 2D (two-dimensional) bar code. At the gate, they slide their mobile phone display showing the bar code by a bar code reader.

The technology, which has been tested by the English soccer club Southend United, will be installed at 10 of the 12 stadiums selected to host the FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup soccer tournament this year, said Ullmann, speaking on the sidelines of a technology forum sponsored by Siemens at the new Allianz Arena soccer stadium in Munich.

"Our technology won't be used at the World Cup games because of FIFA requirements for personalized data to be contained in tickets via bar code or RFID, but it will be used later in these stadiums for tickets to German soccer matches," he said.

It has also been tested by China International Exhibition Center Group Corporation (CIEC).

To use the service, customers must first register at a Web portal provided by the organizer. They can pay by either providing their bank account details for a direct debit or their credit card or by setting up a virtual wallet into which they transfer money electronically.

In addition, users must have mobile phones supporting packet-based technologies, such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or 3G (third-generation), according to Ullmann.

This reporter tested the technology with his own 3G phone at a demo gate in the arena; the service was easy to use and appeared to work without any problems.

"Our service has a couple of big advantages over paper based tickets," Ullmann said. "For users, it's quick, allowing them to book and receive a ticket on the fly. For organizers, in addition to speed, it's cost-efficient offering an alternative distribution channel to postal mail."

Skidata and Smartmachine also claim their technology offers a high level of security to avoid counterfeit, pilferage and repeat use of tickets, as often seen with conventional paper tickets.

Looking ahead, Ullmann expects Near Field Contact (NFC) to generate even greater demand for mobile ticketing services. NFC technology, which evolved from a combination of contactless identification and interconnection technologies, allows users to access content and services, transact payments and store tickets on their smart phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other consumer electronic devices by simply holding NFC-enabled devices next to each other.

"We expect to see NFC-enabled phones in the market by the third quarter of this year," Ullmann said.

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