05 October 2012

NFC payments - it's not for you!

NFC payment terminals are becoming more common and all the credit/debit cards in my wallet have supported NFC for about 6 months which is great as it's much more convenient, especially for buying a coffee or lunch.

NFC and by extension RFID are nothing new - I think I first saw a dog getting an RFID implant put in on Blue Peter in the early 90's and next year NFC will have run the London Underground for 10 years in the form of the Oyster card. It's taken a long time for the banks to warm to this technology - maybe because there's a lot of security protocols to be determined and a lot of liability sums to be calculated etc.

I've had a Google Nexus S for about 18 months which was, from what I've read, the first NFC-enabled handset available in the UK. When I bought it Google were yet to release Wallet, their NFC payment app for Android, but there weren't many NFC payment terminals available so it wasn't that much of a big deal.

The Wallet logo is quite a clever echo of the NFC payment logo

Wallet has since been released in the US and is supported by all the major credit card companies but that's where the good news ends. It seems Google have deals with particular networks, Sprint being the main one, meaning that even if you have an NFC-enabled Android handset you can only use Wallet if you're on one of the approved networks. What's worse is that it isn't available in the UK and there's no word from Google on when or if it will be.

What is particularly odd is that the Nexus 7 has no such restriction. I can only assume this is because it has no GSM modem so there is no deal to be made with a mobile network. This is particularly frustrating because I can see that, if you buy a phone from a particular carrier and that carrier doesn't have a deal with Google, you won't get Wallet but I bought my Nexus S SIM free from Carphone Warehouse so the phone itself has no network affiliation and yet I still can't use Wallet.

What is quite interesting and may shine some light on the whole delay in Wallet getting to the UK is the release of Quick Tap from Barclaycard and Orange. Although Orange sell 10 NFC-enabled handsets only 2 of them are "Quick Tap ready", both of which happen to be the Galaxy SIII, probably their most popular and expensive handset apart from the iPhone. I doubt there's technically anything special about the SIII that means it can be used for payments where the other handsets can't - all the others are cheaper so my guess is it's entirely about forcing people to buy a more expensive handset.

If the other UK networks and card companies are doing similar deals it's no wonder a service like Wallet is unavailable as there is money to be made and phones to be sold. All in all it's pretty rubbish for the early adopter and the consumer in general.

Surely the fact that a phone is PIN protected and the NFC is not always on actually makes it a more secure way of implementing NFC payments. People can't skim your phone the way they can the cards in your actual wallet.

Guess I'll just have to wait and see where this farcical endeavour goes. In the meantime I'll look forward to an Oyster app (which would be pretty ace) and scanning some NFC business cards, I suppose. Whoopee!

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