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Licensed operators

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France has been in the forefront of the NFC revolution, with an early commitment to cross-industry co-operation, considerable work on standards and models and an aggressive timetable for getting phones into the market. Remember this?

A dozen French cities plan to launch wide-scale contactless payment and information service on mobile phones with the backing of the ministry of industry, reports Les Echos. The city projects approved under the initiative will receive state assistance for consultancy and engineering, but no other subsidies are planned at this stage.

[From Aid from French Ministry of Industry for mobile contactless cities. « Contactless & NFC City League]

You will undoubtedly recall that a few months later, the French mobile operators decided to get together with a processor and form a mobile payments proposition to launch a serious assault on the banks’ retail payment franchise.

Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom et Atos Origin créent une société commune pour proposer une plate-forme unique de paiement en ligne, sécurisée par le mobile.

[From Union sacrée des opérateurs mobiles dans le paiement sur Internet – OPERATEUR DE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES INFORMATIQUES ATOS ORIGIN FRANCE TELECOM SFR BOUYGUES TELECOM]

Well they’ve made their first assault on the enemy positions and have been granted a PI licence. Why would they bother, you might wonder, when polls show that the majority of consumers don’t want to use mobile payments?

The 59% of consumers who were against the idea, meanwhile, gave their reasons as: Security (79%)

[From Most French consumers not in favour of mobile payments • NFC World]

The answer is, of course, that consumers don’t know what they are talking about and it’s a waste of time asking them about anything new. Whatever they might say a priori, in all of the pilots and trials that we have been involved in, they really, really, liked mobile proximity.

But there are some real issues, and we need to address them.

Dead phone batteries. Wrong merchant terminals. Terminals turned off. Terminals unrepaired. No terminals at all.

These and other, less obvious glitches suggest contactless technology may not be the mobile payments panacea for tattered magnetic stripes and other problems with plastic cards.

[From Mobile Payments Inheriting the Problems of Contactless – American Banker Article]

Well, yes and no. (I am a consultant, after all). Let’s have a look at these

Dead phone batteries. NFC is interoperable with the existing contactless payments and ticketing systems. As you may have noticed, your Oyster card doesn’t have a battery in it: that’s because it is powered through the electromagnetic field of the terminal you touch it to, and the same is true for the NFC interfaces in phones: if the phone has no battery you may not be able to access your m-wallet to check your transactions, redeem coupons and so on, but you will be able to to use it pay in a shop and ride the subway.

Wrong merchant terminals. I don’t think this will an issue. Right now there are some problems with some cards not being accepted in some terminals, but this is the result of standards problems three or four years ago. The contactless EMV standard should interoperate seamlessly. Some of the terminals are certainly “wrong” from the point of view of consumer experience, but that’s a different thing.

Terminals turned off. Fair enough, I do see this from time-to-time. But it’s a teething problem. There is a problem with terminals being turned off after the merchant has rung up the purchase and then having press some more buttons to turn it on, but that’s an implementation issue.

Terminals unrepaired. I don’t think this is a long term problem. Contactless terminals (since they have no slot or contacts) are considerable more reliable in practice than contact or stripe terminals. Experience from other sectors suggests to me tha tthe cost of maintaining an estate of contactless terminals is less than half the cost of maintaining an estate of conventional terminals.

No terminals at all. This, I think, is the real problem. When I was last in the US, I saw contactless terminals in places where they didn’t really have much impact, like in CVS. But in the places where contactless would have really helped and speeded things up — BART machines, airport carts, Coke machines and so on — nothing.

The point is, that those are real issues that do need dealing with, whereas what the public says are their concerns, such as about the security are, in my opinion, not real issues and it should be handled through marketing communications. Oh, wait…

85% of users said they considered the protocols for operating with the NFC system to be sufficiently secure.

[From Sitges trial results: Consumers pay more often and spend more with NFC phones than with cards • NFC World]

This must be a translation from Spanish, because I’m not sure that “protocols for operating with the NFC system” translates properly in English, but it’s good news all the same. I’m not saying that everything is perfect in the NFC world. Even in France, where progress has been slow despite the commitment of major banks and operators. It’s still a new technology.

The problems are one of the main reasons bank Crédit Mutuel-CIC has held back on launching its m-payment service, according to Patrice Hertzog, payment systems manager for Crédit Mutuel-CIC. He said it has been difficult for the bank’s trusted service manager, Gemalto, to set up and manage the bank’s PayPass application on SIM cards produced by other vendors, such as Oberthur Technologies.

The problems have occurred despite much standards work by the French Association Française du Sans Contact Mobile, or AFSCM, and prior trials involving multiple French banks, mobile operators and vendors.

[From ‘Open’ Battles Break Out Among NFC Vendors Over Android | NFC Times – Near Field Communication and all contactless technology.]

To be honest, this suggests that vendors are not building TSMs from scratch based on the new standards but are putting wrappers around their existing card personalisation systems. That sort of thing is, to me, more of a real issue than incorrectly worrying about what the public think, but whatever. Things are moving. Even in the US, the new technology is getting a foothold and there will soon be TSMs there too.

The joint venture formed by U.S. mobile carriers to launch NFC-based mobile payment… has selected France-based Gemalto to download and manage payment and other secure applications on NFC phones to be used in pilots expected to be held in three to four cities during the second half of 2011

[From U.S. Carrier Joint Venture Chooses a Trusted Service Manager | NFC Times – Near Field Communication and all contactless technology.]

There’s plenty of activity in the US as elsewhere, and since I’ve been looking at the US for clients recently I was interested to read about the work done by the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Boston. This work suggests that the success factors for the US will rest on the evolution of an open eco system for NFC.

The mobile infrastructure would likely be based on Near Field Communications (NFC) contactless technology resident in a smart phone and merchant terminals.

Ubiquitous platforms for mobile should leverage existing rails, including the ACH network for non-card payments, and support new payment types that meet emerging needs.
Some form of dynamic data authentication would be at the heart of a layered mobile payments security and fraud mitigation program.

Standards would be designed, adopted, and complied with through an industry certification program to ensure both domestic and global interoperability, including a standard to ensure that devices used to facilitate mobile payments do not create any electronic interference problems.

A better understanding of a regulatory oversight model should be developed in concert with bank and non-bank regulators early in the effort to clarify compliance responsibilities.

Trusted Service Managers should oversee the provision of interoperable and shared security elements used in the mobile phone.

[From Mobile Payments in the United States Mapping Out the Road Ahead – Boston Fed]

On that final point, things are already moving.

The joint venture formed by U.S. mobile carriers to launch NFC-based mobile payment… has selected France-based Gemalto to download and manage payment and other secure applications on NFC phones to be used in pilots expected to be held in three to four cities during the second half of 2011

[From U.S. Carrier Joint Venture Chooses a Trusted Service Manager | NFC Times – Near Field Communication and all contactless technology.]

So there’s plenty of activity in the US as elsewhere and plenty of organisations are looking at how the move to mobile proximity may impact their businesses.

A white paper that outlines the survey findings, including how the most forward-thinking financial institutions are building a business case for mobile payments, is available at www.fiserv.com/mobilestrategy.

[From Forward-Looking Financial Institutions Focused on Mobile Payments Business Case, Says Fiserv Survey – pymnts.com]

I couldn’t help but think, as I read this, that the very act of building a business case for something like this is fundamentally backward-looking, trying to shoehorn something that is the basis of a new value network into the existing business models. The report says that the factors that the FIs evaluated across these business lines included customer retention and profitability, cost reduction, revenue generation and retention, increased customer engagement and competitive parity. When I looked at the revenue generation part of it, though, it only referred to revenue generation in terms of debit card transactions and keeping the connection to the DDA. This isn’t how forward-looking organisations are thinking about revenue generation from mobile payments, they are thinking about delivering entirely new products and services that are simply not possible in conventional (ie, card) environments, generating revenue from things that banks don’t do.

Google is to run tests of mobile payments at stores in New York and San Francisco in the summer, according to anonymous sources cited by Bloomberg. The search engine giant will pay for installation of thousands of NFC cash-register systems from VeriFone Systems at merchant locations, one source told the wire.

[From Finextra: Google to run commercial trials of NFC at the POS – Bloomberg]

Well, well. So while financial institutions are agonising over the business case, Google is giving out the terminals for free. It’s not hard to see why: they don’t care about the miniscule margins on the payment transaction and arguing about how to slide and dice the merchant fee, they care about building new business around knowing who is buying what and where. So leadership in the NFC space is may well shift away from the payment incumbents. Perhaps the answer to the age-old question about whether banks or operators would control the mobile payments space is… neither.

One thought on “Licensed operators”

  1. tfd_aurora@yahoo.com' Plumbing says:

    Amazon has been reported as exploring the possibility of starting a new mobile payment system that makes use of near field communication (NFC) technology. While this tip off comes from folks who do not wish to be named (due to confidentiality reasons), it doesn’t seem too farfetched at all. NFC usage is growing in the country and many other companies have been reported to be experimenting with the technology as well, it makes sense that Amazon would be looking to take advantage of it as well – after all they are one of the largest online merchants around.

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