NFC's momentum is growing but consumers are wary

Paul Rasmussen
One dominant theme at last week's Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, was the growing momentum behind Near Field Communications--a long-established technology that has lingered on the edge of interest of many.

The word from many operators--especially in Europe--was that 2011 was going to be the year when NFC-enabled handsets would become available in volume.

Nokia, Samsung, ZTE, RIM and Motorola all said they would be shipping smartphones with NFC during 2011, while the vital agreements with payment system providers and retailers would appear almost ready to go commercial.

To boost uptake further, Apple's next iPhone and iPad versions are also strongly tipped as supporting NFC, in some manner.

While Asia, and in particular Japan, has carried the flame for m-commerce for some years, European operators at last seem keen to enter the market and are forming alliances to ensure adequate support for the necessary ecosystem and achieve compatible point-of-sale terminals.

Operators in France, Belgium and now the UK have announced plans to push forward with NFC-based payment services this year, although some--Orange, for example, seem further ahead than others.

But, while the technology and ecosystem might be falling into line, European consumers seem less keen on the idea.

Recent market research in France and the UK has indicated that consumers remain wary of using their handsets to pay for items, with over 50 per cent of those surveyed in the UK claiming to be uncomfortable with the idea.

The central worry, apparently, is based around security, with consumers trusting banks, and not operators, to run and manage m-payment services. A study in France produced similar results.

It looks like the operators will need to do some image building to reassure the public they can do better running a payment service than they presently do with their own billing systems. --Paul