Train passengers in Germany can now purchase tickets with internet-enabled mobile phones.

Germany joins several other countries, including France and Japan, that are rolling out mobile phone-based payment services in the retail and transportation sectors. The services aim to offer a quick, relatively secure way to purchase goods and services without having to fiddle with cash.

Under the German service, customers can purchase a ticket up to 10 minutes before departure through the travel portal of the railway company Deutsche Bahn and receive a ticket in the form of a bar code sent via MMS (multimedia messaging service). With a special reader, conductors scan the bar code that appears on the mobile phone's display to confirm the ticket.

To use the service, customers must register with Deutsche Bahn and own a handset capable of receiving MMS messages. When purchasing a ticket online, they are required to add their mobile number and a PIN (personal identification number). Customers can pay for the tickets either by credit card or direct debit card.

Numerous regional railways in the country are planning similar services, using MMS or SMS (short message service) technologies.

In addition to these, a few public transit groups in Germany have begun using Near Field Communication (NFC) to allow customers to use their mobile phones as electronic wallets.

NFC has evolved from a combination of RFID (radio frequency identification) and interconnection technologies. It enables any two devices to connect and exchange information or access content and services by bringing them together over a distance of a few centimetres. Operating in the 13.56MHz range, NFC is also designed to work on other protocols, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing devices to communicate at longer ranges or transfer data at higher rates.

The NFC service offered by in Hanau near Frankfurt enables customers with Nokia's 3220 clamshell phone and embedded NFC technology to buy, store and use bus tickets. The electronic ticketing application, which has been developed together with the Association of German Transport Operators, is stored in an integrated smart card in the phone.

Users touch their phones against a contactless reader as they enter the bus. At the end of each month, they receive an invoice listing all trips and costs.

The service was launched earlier this year by the public transportation authority Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV), in collaboration with technology partners Nokia, Philips and Vodafone.

Japan, meanwhile, has been the pioneer in phone-based payment services. Phones equipped with Sony's Felica smart card platform can be used to buy tickets for rail travel, and this month some taxi companies were due to begin accepting phone payments as well.

In France, the railway operator SNCF has said it plans to roll out its Tikepfone mobile phone ticketing service in September.