When I first started writing for this website, and The Official Merchant Services Blog, a topic I was both fascinated with and completely astounded by was Near Field Communication (NFC). It seems fitting that on the eve of the National Football League’s 2012-2013 season debut — a rare Wedensday Night Football game — which features a gridiron battle between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, two mainstays of the National Football Conference (NFC), that I would once again be tackling the topic of NFC. The first time I saw the acronym I thought it was talking about football.
It was talking about technology that was poised to revolutionize payment processing and make everyone’s phone their wallet. We were going to be radically transformed from a cashless society relying on plastic cards with magnetic stripes into a cashless society relying on waving around your smartphone at registers and terminals who pick up your signal and magically charge your account. One swipe of the phone, and no hassle whatsoever, as Near Field Communication did all of the talking back and forth between devices while you figured out what you were going to buy next.
But over the past couple of years, the dominance of NFC has pretty much mirrored the Dallas Cowboys own dominance of the NFC in which they play. A lot of hype, but not a lot of tangible financial results. The biggest proponent of NFC has been Google Wallet, but another giant of the NFC industry-in-waiting has been Isis. Just like the NFL season, Isis — the mobile-payment joint venture backed by AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA Inc. — is poised to get underway in September too.
VeriFone Systems Inc., a maker of payment terminals that Host Merchant Services offers for free to qualifying merchants that sign up with them, is working on the Isis project. Chief Executive Officer Doug Bergeron said in an interview with Bloomberg that VeriFone is preparing to introduce Isis in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas.
Isis had initially planned to roll out its NFC-based mobile payment service in the first half of 2012. The joint venture tweaked its strategy last year, opting to use credit-card companies to handle transactions rather than the carriers themselves. This shift has taken time to implement because its been focused on ensuring payments can be made securely — the single biggest fear that consumers have voiced about mobile payments.
Are You Ready for some Mobile?
So now that Isis is on the cusp of kicking off NFC-fueled mobile payments in select areas, is this validation for the technology? It doesn’t seem that way. Google Wallet’s NFC-integration still hasn’t come to my local shopping areas. But many other mobile payment options have. I can and have bought movie tickets on my phone. This was done using the QR-Code technology which seems to have had a quicker integration into the U.S. Economy at large. It was something that many companies were already using for their marketing so utilizing the technology to work for payments was faster as it relied on infrastructure already in place, and consumer fears of security were lower since consumers had already opted in with the codes.
Toss Square’s partnership with Starbucks and PayPal’s partnership with Discover into the mix and it seems like the Mobile Payments industry has decided it wants to score an industry-wide touchdown with or without the help of NFC. In fact, Devindra Hardaware suggests in a column for VentureBeat that the industry could still make use of the ideas in NFC, but completely bypass the ground game entirely by going with an aerial assault guaranteed to score big with consumers: “There’s still plenty of room for mobile wallets to disrupt the way we pay — just look at the Pay with Square with app, which lets merchants charge you just based on your name and face. In many cases, you won’t even need to pull your phone out of your pocket.”