Telecommunications, Automotive and Market Research

More than 15 years in the mobile telecommunications industry and an industry analyst since 1998.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Should Have Known Mobile Payment Prospects Were Too Good to Be True

Yeah, it's started. The bickering and squabbling among the players.  Now I'm on a roller coaster of thoughts about how soon we'll start to see mobile payments using Near Field Communications (NFC) on our cellphones.
Cool New NFC Logo
I was quite pessimistic when first I wrote about mobile wallet in November 2010. I thought all the players who would be involved would spend so much time bickering over technology. And there is always the problem of figuring out who gets paid.

Then I was just ecstatic when the joint venture Isis was announced just a few weeks later. "At last," I thought, "maybe the key players will actually learn how to agree on things and get along."


My mistake. They're fighting already. Before things get off the ground.

In a Wall Street Journal article called RIM, Carriers Fight Over Digital Wallet, by Phred Dvorak and Stuart Weinberg, say the battle is now coming down to, "who owns the customer?"

The dispute centers on where key data related to mobile payments will reside on the next generation of smartphones, slated to come out later this year. Now, such information is stored in the magnetic strip on a credit or debit card. RIM [makers of the BlackBerry] and other handset makers are poised to make phones that will store this data, known in industry parlance as "credentials," in the devices themselves. In a transaction, the customer would wave the phone near a special electronic reader at a store's checkout.
 But RIM and carriers like Rogers Communications Inc. in Canada, and AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA in the U.S., disagree over exactly where on the phone the credentials should reside—and thus who will control the customers, revenue and applications that grow out of mobile payments.


What's the big problem?
Apparently, if your credentials/password/bank account info is stored in one part of the phone, the handset vendor "owns" you. If that's all stored somewhere else, the carrier owns you. And, I'm sure, it won't be long before your bank thinks it should own you, your credit card company wants to own you, Starbucks wants to own you and iTunes wants to be in there as well.

What does it mean?
These squabbles will all lead to more delays (or, at worst, total failure) for mobile wallet and mobile payments using NFC. Already, the lack of standards has caused Appple to wave off its first attempt at NFC, which was expected to be in the iPhone 5.

Is there any hope?
Of course there's still hope. There is no question that NFC payments work; systems have been in place for years in Japan. But the key is that Japan's system was built with cooperation among all the players. All the mobile operators in Japan have adopted the same technology and all their phones are compatible. But it works. And it could work here in the US... providing, of course, everybody finally agrees how it's going to be done.

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