Wirecard’s Smart Band: A mobile wallet you wear around your wrist

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Credit: Wirecard

When the Apple Watch comes out this year, it will have a pretty unique feature among wearables in the market: you’ll be able to buy stuff by waving the wearable at the register thanks to near field communications (NFC) chip and support for Apple Pay. But what if you don’t want to buy an Apple Watch and the necessary iPhone to connect it or you just don’t want to mess with Apple Pay? Well, a German payments company named Wirecard may just have an alternative.

Wirecard has created a wristband with an embedded NFC chip and a Bluetooth radio that connects to your smartphone. As with other the universal credit card concepts like LoopPay, Coin and Plastc; Wirecard lets you load a credit or debit card’s credentials into its device and use it to pay for goods in place of a plastic card. But instead of just emulating the digits on your card for a magnetic stripe reader, the Smart Band uses a new secure payments technology backed by Google, MasterCard and Visa called Host Card Emulation (HCE).

HCE basically creates a smart card in software, allowing it take advantage of new secure transaction technologies like tokenization. Instead of a static credit card number that any old magnetic stripe terminal can read, your credit card generates a unique number, called a token, for every transaction so merchants never see your actual card credentials. It’s the same security technology used in Apple Pay, the mobile carriers’ Softcard smartphone payments system and even some versions of the EMV chipped credit cards that are making their way into the U.S. market this year.

Wirecard Smart Band detailIn its announcement, Wirecard didn’t go into details about the bands other features, but the photo it released seems to indicate it has message notification and a weather widget (hopefully it will tell time as well). Wirecard plans to show off its financial wearable at the Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich next week, but there’s still no word yet on when the band will be available commercially or even if it would be sold outside of Europe, so I wouldn’t count on wearing your credit card on your wrist anytime soon (unless, of course, you buy an Apple Watch, expected to launch early this year).

As for the types of payment services [company]Wirecard[/company] will support, I suspect it will start with its own. The company wears many finance hats, but primarily it’s a competitor of PayPal in many overseas markets. It also issues its own [company]Visa[/company] and [company]MasterCard[/company] prepaid cards, which I imagine would be the first cards that would get digitized into Wirecard’s Smart Band.

But since the Smart Band used HCE it could feasibly work with other payment services, for instance Google Wallet. As you switched between mobile wallets, the device could reprogram itself as the smart card for each service. The NFC chip could also be used apps beyond payments. Wirecard said you could load loyalty card credentials into the band, and it could be used as a form of wireless ID. It could serve as your badge at conference, as guest pass at a resort, your ticket on a subway or key to your hotel room door.

Of course this all assumes that multiple industries adopt NFC as a contactless transaction technology – something NFC boosters have long predicted but has yet to happen. The retail industry now seems to be on board with NFC thanks to Apple Pay. But maybe putting NFC in more wearable devices could be the key to making its other applications more mainstream.

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Sony SmartWatch 3

 

The [company]Apple[/company] Watch is good start, but so far NFC hasn’t made it into any Android Wear devices except Sony’s Smart Watch 3, and even that doesn’t appear to have any contactless applications just yet. Another device to look out for is Plastc’s digital card due out this summer. Though it has the standard credit card form factor, it also sports an NFC radio, meaning it could be used much the same way as Wirecard’s Smart Band for both contactless payments and as a digital ID.

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John Starbeek

Some Android phones have had NFC for several years already but the financial institutions have not been very co-operative. Until that happens it will be very difficult to sell any such devices.

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