Au revoir NFC? Carrier Bouygues reportedly cools on contactless payments

NFC On Mobile Orange Barclaycard

France’s Bouygues Telecom has effectively abandoned its program for using mobile phones as contactless payment devices, according to a report in NFC Times, a publication devoted to the relevant technology.

The report states that top executives associated with Bouygues’s near-field communications (NFC) efforts have left or are leaving the company. It says Bouygues, France’s third-largest mobile operator and a pioneer in the NFC field, will participate alongside banks and other telcos in a delayed national push for building out NFC infrastructure – making sure shops support the technology at the point of sale.

However, it says Bouygues will supply no promotion or customer support, and won’t provide “updates to the technology”. The reason for this is apparently financial – Bouygues is undergoing restructuring and is looking to cut costs – but it’s hard not to see this in a wider context.

NFC is still not a sure thing when it comes to handsets – indeed, outside of a couple of countries it’s barely taken off for users of contactless payment cards. Part of this is down to manufacturer enthusiasm; Apple, for example, still doesn’t build NFC into its iOS devices.

And, particularly after the UK’s O2 carrier ditched its mobile wallet scheme last week, there’s a big question mark hovering over the whole concept of mobile payments, at least in developed countries. Mobile payments are absolutely huge in countries such as Kenya and Pakistan, but that’s because people there mostly lack bank accounts. The advantages for those who already have bank cards in their physical wallets are a lot less tangible.

Even if mobile wallets and payments do take off, the business case for carriers is far from clear – there are a lot of actors in this play, and everyone wants a slice. Perhaps that’s why Bouygues has gone cool on the idea. I’ve asked the carrier for comment, and will update as and when it comes in.

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