Orange is extending its Orange Cash NFC mobile payment service to the whole of metropolitan France, following the initial launch of the service in Caen, Lille, Nice, Strasbourg and Rennes in 2014.
Orange Cash is a prepaid rechargeable account for Orange customers launched in partnership with Visa. In order to use it, subscribers can download a free application to an NFC-compatible smartphone and then make contactless payments in stores and on web sites that accept Visa cards.
Orange added that over 3 million Orange customers already have a compatible smartphone, and said Orange Cash is now accepted at 324,000 points of sale across France. The first 150,000 users to sign up will get €10 ($11.30) credited to their account the first time they top up, as well as €1 cash back up to a limit of €25 per account and per year on all purchases of more than €1.
The operator said Orange Cash is the first prepaid NFC mobile payment solution from a mobile operator in France. The company has also previously trialled contactless mobile services in conjunction with rivals Bouygues Telecom and SFR under Cityzi, but that service appears to have now morphed into a general support and lobbying network for the development of NFC services across France.
Mobile NFC has certainly had a long and rocky ride. A number of joint ventures planned by mobile operators have fallen by the wayside or been acquired, such as Weve in the UK or Softcard in the U.S.
The launch of NFC capabilities by smartphone manufacturers including Apple and Samsung along with Google has also raised questions about the future role that mobile operators might play in the NFC value chain.
However, previous research by payments news agency Pymts.com showed that Apple Pay, for example, had also been struggling to gain traction among iPhone 6 users, with the number of owners trying the service falling from 15 per cent in March to 13.1 per cent in June. The mobile payment service has so far been officially launched in the U.S. and the UK.
In May, Ovum also said that Android Pay, the mobile payment system introduced by Google as part of its latest smartphone operating system, would not be a game changer for the sector.
Nevertheless, some see 2015 as the inflection year for NFC payments and other services as the ecosystem expands.
Earlier in 2015, Deloitte predicted that 5 per cent of the base of 600 million-650 million NFC-equipped phones would be used at least once a month to make contactless in-store payments at retail outlets by the end of this year. This compares with monthly usage by less than 0.5 per cent of the 450 million-500 million NFC-phone owners as of mid-2014.
Deloitte also warned that "It will be a long while before the majority of us can jettison our physical wallets."
- see this Orange release
- see this Deloitte report
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Orange Cash mobile payments service goes live