Google deals NFC blow to carriers

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
03 Dec 2013

The carriers are putting some real impetus behind NFC-based mobile payments before the year is out. Earlier this month, the US venture Isis went live with its digital wallet service, and now Vodafone is rolling out a similar offering across all its European markets.

Operators are trying to inject new momentum into NFC, which has seen slow uptake, but which cellcos prefer because it gives them a high level of control via the SIM. However, Google's latest moves may rob cellcos of that advantage even where NFC is deployed.

Seeking to build a head of steam before negative forces can build, Vodafone will, over the coming months, provide smartphone-based wallet services in Germany in mid-December and the Netherlands, the UK and Italy in the spring. This follows a launch in Spain last week. Other markets should come later. Vodafone Wallet is based around SmartPass, a mobile payments application co-developed with Visa, and also holds loyalty cards, gift vouchers, travel tickets and other such items in digital form. Other payments apps may be supported in future to encourage partnerships with different financial institutions.

In Europe, Vodafone Wallet and Vodafone SmartPass will be able to tap into about 1.2 million NFC-enabled terminals around Europe and will be available initially on certain smartphones from Samsung, Sony and HTC, with more to come next year.

Vodafone has high ambitions for its wallet, aiming to leverage its geographical reach and scale to establish an international platform. It is working with major European banks to integrate their cards into its wallet and says its system is the first in Europe to support the GlobalPlatform open standard, which will help it to build a developer ecosystem and see its wallet integrated into third party services.

Christian Wirtz, group m-commerce director at the operator, said in a statement: “By building our service on the latest GlobalPlatform standard as opposed to a proprietary system, our mobile wallet is open to all third party service providers, including banks and financial institutions, and we are focused on delivering the broadest service portfolio possible.”

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