RIM has announced a European trail of its new NFC software, a feature available on the BlackBerry 9790, to enable it to be used for cash and card free payments. NFC is widely regarded as being the defining feature that will make or break the best mobile phone contracts at the start of this year, and the lack of NFC support has been one of the biggest criticisms leveled against the new Nokia Lumia Windows Phone.
The Canadian manufacturer has linked up with the Spanish telecoms firm, Telefonica to trial a Wallet scheme. 350 employees at the company in Spain will be trialling the system that will allow them to make payments in banks and retailers as well as using the BlackBerry devices as a security pass to gain access to the Telefonica building and its headquarters.
The NFC, or Near Field Communications, software is a new feature of BlackBerry OS 7, which is available on the Bold 9790 and due to be released in the UK in early January. It can be utilised to create a secure environment to make transactions. Google was the first to look into the capability of the software for its Google Wallet idea, which was unveiled earlier this year but was only going to get a limited US roll out. That scheme is still being worked on and could be launched in the next twelve months.
At Telefonica, the system will work by using a BlackBerry Bold 9790, or other device that carries the OS update, and tapping it against an NFC reader. Telefonica says they chose BlackBerry because it is a secure option. Once the trail is over in Spain, the telecoms firm wants to roll out the practice to other employees around the world, It uses what RIM describes as a SIM based NFC capability. It shows different cards available to the user, much in the same way a wallet does. The user then picks the card they want to use. They can also get account balances as well as confirmations from their bank
Other organisations that are taking part in the pilot include banks and financial institutions, shops and supermarkets and petrol stations.
Cash free payments using a smartphone have been mooted for a couple of years. Some see it as an exciting possibility, removing the need to carry a purse or wallet and simply making all payments using the smartphone device. Others think customers will need a lot of education as to how the software works and how secure their payments will actually be. For RIM, this is the first step to branching out the payment service to customers around the world. Chances are other manufacturers and software developers will have an eye on the pilot, not simply Google. Many new smartphones out this year also have NFC capability and inevitably speculation about whether this will be sued for card and cash free payment service has been rife. Its success will be one factor, how it is received is another. With the Bold range and BlackBerry OS 7 coming out in early January, this could be a feature that entices new customer, particularly the business market, traditionally a strong sector for RIM. Easier payments, the need to just carry one device instead of several means users could work and shop on the go and need nothing else.