Phones embedded with near-field communications (NFC) chips are beginning to proliferate, but their uptake has been much slower in North America than in Europe and Asia, according to Berg Insight. Of the 30 million NFC handsets sold in 2011, roughly 5 million wound up in the hands of North American consumers, while the number was around 10 million in Europe and much greater than 10 million in Asia, said André Malm, senior analyst at Berg.
“North America is a little behind right now, but could catch up fast,” Malm said via email. In fact, the globe is just beginning to embrace NFC, with shipments growing 87.8 percent annually, Berg projected. The analyst firm expects NFC device shipments will reach 700 million in 2016.
NFC is the key technology behind mobile payments, which operators in the U.S. are just now beginning to adopt. Even though 40 NFC handsets were launched globally in 2011, according to Berg, only a handful made it to the U.S., mainly because few carriers are actually supporting NFC mobile payments services.
Google has launched its carrier-independent Wallet payment service in its two Nexus devices, but so far Sprint is the only operator to support it. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile – which together account for the vast majority of U.S. mobile accounts – are launching their own competing NFC payments service, called Isis, this summer. Until then the mobile payments market in the U.S. will likely remain dormant.