A number of moves by different companies and organizations around the world seem to be confirming a long-held rumor is true: Wireless credit card payments using NFC (Near Field wireless Communications) are coming. And (although we ourselves have wavered a bit) they're coming soon.
We knew Verifone, one of the biggest players in the handheld credit card processing unit market, was going to be adding NFC to all its new handsets, but the company has just set out exactly how and why it's making this move. The company, conscious that there will be a number of competing NFC protocols (at least at first) is making its handsets compatible with a broad range of NFC systems. By working hard on the design, Verifone's reduced the cost of including NFC processing equipment in its point of sale terminals to just $30 to $35, from an initial cost of around $100.
Just how the cost of accepting cards was pushed onto retailers at first, but now the model is changing as new players (like Jack Dorsey's Square) enter the game, Verifone sees scope for innovation in who'll pay for the NFC facilities—particularly if players in this new market want to have a say in how the tech works, which is an incentive for them to bear some of the technical costs. To assist, Verifone's offering a novel deal to end-user merchants to actually manage the NFC capabilities of the handsets for them—keeping the hardware up to date with the NFC protocols the merchant selects (or is sponsored to support by advertising or hardware companies).
Essentially this news confirms Verifone is embracing contacless credit cards wholeheartedly.
Orange, though not a common brand in the U.S., is one of Europe's leading cell phone operators. It's promised to roll out a Europe-wide NFC system during 2011, and it's just revealed the first move: An NFC trial involving Mastercard's PayPass system in Poland. Merchants in a wide range of stores from McDonald's to computer stores to Shell gas stations have been given NFC-capable POS systems, and to highlight how powerful it is, customers who sign up will get into the trial for free and they'll earn loyalty points for each transaction (one of the benefits of this tech is that loyalty schemes needn't require a separate card).
Spain's leading cell phone operators Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange just signed up to work together to bring NFC technology to Spain, because they realize that a compound effort is more likely to result in a reliable infrastructure and less fragmentation of protocols. The companies are shrewdly not collaborating as a joint business venture, instead the effort is directed at harmonizing the technical aspects of the NFC ideal, which also means the business pact is open for other companies to join.
The on-again, off-again Apple NFC rumor, centering on the upcoming iPhone 5, has resurfaced again. Is Apple unofficially "leaking" information to keep the rumor alive and drum-up market intrigue in the weeks before the device is unveiled? That's speculation, but it's not beyond the plausible considering how often this rumor has returned. This time it's data from inside Apple's Chinese supply chain that again suggests the new (metal chassis) iPhone 5 will include an NFC processing chip and associated flat spiral antenna to take part in smart payments systems as well as clever password-free Mac logins.
Apple's such a big player in the smartphone industry globally that if it does include NFC in the new iPhone it could provide a massive jolt to kick-start the tech around the world.
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