Near-field communications (NFC) is far from being a standard in mobile payments, but the wave-and-pay technology may have gotten its biggest vote of confidence yet from the carrier community today, as some 45 of them endorsed NFC and committed to support and launch services based on it. The crucial questions now will be whether these carriers stick to their word; and whether handset makers, other infrastructure providers and consumers follow these carriers’ lead.
The endorsement, announced today by the mobile trade body the GSMA, also included the release of handset and SIM specifications for the technology — which, if followed, could mean interoperable and widely available NFC-based services in the future.
The announcement comes in a week that has seen a few other developments in NFC.
They included a partnership between Intel (NSDQ: INTC) and MasterCard to offering an NFC authentication option for payments made on Ultrabooks (not to take the Ultrabook to the shop; but to wave an NFC device near your ultrabook as part of the verification process when making online purchases).
And Verifone, the payment services provider that has worked with Google (NSDQ: GOOG) on its Google Wallet venture, acquiring European rival Point for €600 million ($811 million) to expand the number of locations where it can offer its NFC-based payment services.
But alongside these advances we have seen progress from many other camps, too, that underscores how people backing several other horses, too: the dongle-based payment service Square now has 800,000 merchants and is steadily rolling out new services to enhance the product; Zong, the Facebook payments partner, recently got bought by eBay’s PayPal; and Apple is dabbling in charging on its devices using its iTunes account information and barcode-scanning technology, of all things.
It’s not clear that any of the operators getting behind NFC today (the full list is below) have anything more than their word to ensure their commitment, although several of them are already working on other initiatives that hopefully prove that they will not be changing their tune any time soon. Companies like Orange have launched NFC payment services in selected markets in France and have plans to deploy them fully across other parts of its footprint. Others like AT&T (NYSE: T), T-Mobile and Verizon are already working on NFC partnerships through their Isis consortium.
Strategy Analytics forecasts that there will be sales of 1.5 billion handsets with SIM-based NFC capabilities worldwide between 2010 and 2016, and that in that period there will be $50 billion in mobile transactions made. ABI Research believes that 85 per cent of all new point of sale terminals shipped in 2016 will be NFC-enabled.
The full list of 45 carriers: América Móvil, AT&T, AVEA, Axiata, AXIS, Bharti Airtel, Bouygues Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, CSL, Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT), Elisa Corporation, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company PJSC (du), Etisalat, Everything Everywhere, Globe Telecom, KPN, KT Corporation, Maxis, Mobily, MTS, Orange, Proximus, Qtel Group, Rogers Communications, Saudi Telecom Company (STC), SFR, SK Telecom (NYSE: SKM), Smart, SOFTBANK MOBILE, Telecom Italia, Telecom New Zealand, Telecom Slovenije, Telefónica, Telekom Austria Group, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Telus, TMN, Turkcell, Verizon, VimpelCom, VIVA Bahrain and Vodafone Group (NYSE: VOD).