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Thirsty? Then Dial a Drink

SYDNEY -- Thirsty? Have no small change? It is these two questions Coca-Cola and Telstra are banking on, as the companies partner to trial a system through which mobile phone users can dial a Coke vending machine for a drink.

The curious application of wireless payment technology has kicked off with a month-long Sydney-based 'Dial a Coke' trial, which will involve 17 Coca-Cola vending machines at Central railway station.

The partners claim it is an Australian first, and will allow a Telstra post-paid (or contract) customer to dial phone number on one of the participating vending machines from their mobile phone to purchase a drink.

The purchase amount is credited to the vending machine after the user dials the number, and they can then select the drink they want.

The transaction is charged to the customer's mobile phone account and appears on the next bill with the vending machines location. Telstra maintains the cost of the drink will be the same as if the customer were to put coins in the vending machine, and says it will not charge for the cost of the call as well as for the drink.

It's a quirky first application of wireless micro payment technology, but it is this curiousity aspect Telstra is hoping will be a drawcard for the new service, and possibly entice those who test it to be longer term users of the wireless transactions Telstra is planning.

"This initiative is a precursor to people being able to use their mobile handsets for functions such as micro payments for parking, ticketing and bookings," said Telstra OnAir's national product development manager Greg Day.

Through this innovative technology partnership between Telstra's mobile network and our vending network, consumers at Central Station will have the opportunity over the next month to experience what the future has in store," added Coca-Cola Amatil national manager for equipment services and vending Norm Farrell.

Innovative on our shores the technology may be, but this application is not the first example of wireless payment technology pushed to consumers. Japan, a world leader in mobile phone use and a country in which the device has become ingrained in the culture, has its long-established imode service through telecommunications provider NTT DoCoMo.

Through imode, users can access a range of sites and services such as mobile banking, email, weather information, games and ticket reservations. As the service uses 9600bps packet data transmission, fees are charged by the amount of data transmitted and received, not by the length of time online.

For the time being though, Telstra's and Coke's focus is quenching thirst on the run. The trial will run until May 3, and the partners intend to use the resulting data to evaluate a broader implementation of 'Dial a Coke' in the future.