MasterCard Hires Orange Exec To Run Its Mobile Business

With news that RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) might be joining the still-small ranks of handsets makers putting NFC chips into its devices, there is increasing belief that we could be reaching some kind of critical mass for mobile payments using contactless techology. Today MasterCard made a key hire from the mobile industry to ensure its role in it all.

MasterCard has hired Mung-Ki Woo as its head of mobile, a newly-created role in the company. Woo is at France Telecom’s mobile operation Orange, where he has been the VP in charge of mobile payments technologies.

The news was reported in NFC Times. We have contacted Orange to confirm the move and to see if a replacement has been named.

Woo, who had been with Orange since 2005, was a driving force behind France Telecom’s NFC initiatives, which had been some of the earliest and biggest trials of the technology in the whole of the industry.

Orange says it will launch NFC services across the whole of its European footprint in the second half of this year. In its home market of France, where it has launched a number of trials, Orange expects to have 500,000 people equipped with NFC-enabled devices by the end of 2011. But Woo’s NFC vision at Orange has not been without growing pains: A commercial transport NFC launch, scheduled to start in 2008, had to be stalled due to technical issues.

In moving to MasterCard, and away from the operator world, it is highly probable that Woo’s allegiances, and view of NFC, will shift.

Many operators have been pushing for NFC chips to come embedded in SIMs — this would be a handy way of keeping subscribers’ commerce activities closely tied to their mobile subscription accounts. But credit card giants like MasterCard and Visa would argue that NFC is better run by payment professionals like themselves — and these services would be better left embedded in devices.

NFC Times writes that at MasterCard, Woo will head up mobile payments and the company’s m-commerce business, reporting to Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer.

MasterCard’s move to recruit from the mobile industry follows closely on from its competitor Visa. In early 2010, Visa also created a new role for a mobile head and filled it with Bill Gadja, who had been the chief commercial officer of the GSMA.

The news comes in the same week that specs of a new BlackBerry device, the Torch 2, were leaked to BGR, showing that the device will be NFC-enabled.