Maxis, Visa goes live with mobile NFC payments

Malaysian operator Maxis has launched the world's first commercial mobile payments service for point-of-sale transactions using Visa's payWave service based on Near Field Communications (NFC) technology.

The new service, branded Maxis FastTap and offered in conjunction with Visa and Maybank, is compatible with just one handset, a Nokia 6212 classic with an embedded NFC chipset.

Maybank Visa account holders can download their Visa payWave credit account details directly to the handset over the Maxis network. Payments can then be made by waving the handset in front of a payWave contactless reader.

Visa says 1,800 merchant outlets currently accept Visa payWave in Malaysia.

Customers can also use FastTap to pay for toll, transit, parking and theme park charges at over 3,000 Touch "˜n Go points nationwide. The Nokia 6212 comes preloaded with RM10 ($2.75) worth of Touch "˜n Go credit.

Visa has a number of pilot projects for mobile versions of its contactless payWave system around the world, including one announced earlier this month in Singapore with cellco M1 and Citibank, which kicks off next month. MasterCard also has several trials with the mobile version of its PayPass contactless service.

However, while contactless mobile payments have been a hit in Japan, which uses Sony's FeliCa technology, similar services based on NFC have been slow to gain traction, due to the complexity of the ecosystem involved, competing standards (which means multiple card readers for merchants), security concerns and lack of support from device manufacturers.

The GSM Association has sought to accelerate NFC-based mobile payments through its Pay Buy Mobile initiative, which defines the specs for a UICC (Universal Integrated Circuit Card) that allows the SIM to securely host payment apps.

However, the first handsets supporting UICC aren't expected to become available until 2010, according to a Maxis spokesperson who confirmed that the Maxis FastTap service will migrate to UICC once it's commercially available.

Meanwhile, the expectations for NFC payments have become mixed in recent months. Last month, ABI Research practice director Dan Shey declared NFC a "failure" in terms of a viable business model, and that SMS, mobile Internet and downloadable mobile applications will dominate mobile payments for the foreseeable future, generating $1.6 billion in transactions globally this year.