We want our NFC

Okay, enough is enough! I've been waiting for over five years to be able to make payments using credit cards, debit cards and travel cards via my mobile phone, and I still can't do it. I've attended countless conferences that have covered the subject and have heard every compelling reason why it will happen, but it hasn't. I've written countless articles and blogs on the intransigence of the many players involved, but it has made no difference - I still don't have the mobile phone of my choice being able to handle a payment transaction with the merchant of my choice using the credit or debit card of my choice.

Please don't remind me of all the ground-breaking consortiums that are being formed in countries around the world and how they are all getting along so fine and doing a great job of bringing the simplicity and convenience of NFC to customers - but it's simply not happening for me, and I am the customer.

As I wrote over a year ago, the process is like two worlds colliding. The traditional payment handlers such as banks and credit card issuers have the credit and distribution channels sown up as well as the all-important merchants, and it has taken them years to get to that position. The transport authorities were quick to jump on the benefits of NFC, but they have their own cards and their own top-up methods, usually via ATM-like machines at stations.

The idea of putting NFC functionality into a mobile handset adds many benefits, such as convenience, especially if multiple "cards" can be stored on one device and the card issuer can disable a stolen or lost device simply by sending it a message via the mobile network.

The take-up issue is not one of technology or customer acceptance, it's all about trust and who gets a cut of the action or a share of the spoils. The credit card companies and issuing banks have a cozy revenue arrangement that they simply do not want to share. The CSPs want to get some of this action or charge "rent" on their SIM and provide the necessary security. The transport companies have already made the investment in their own closed systems and don't like the idea of sharing their meager margins with anyone.

More add-ons

We've seen a plethora of technology additions to existing handsets to make them NFC capable. Everything from microSD chips, Bluetooth stickers, earphone socket gizmos, SIM film overlays as well as a number of very basic NFC specific handsets. Even Google has jumped into the fray with a handset and payment system it hopes will become popular and  can break the cycle of non-delivery of universal NFC to the masses. Good luck.

To bring the whole shebang to some level of sensibility, maybe someone should ask the end-users, the customers, the ones that pay the money that makes the world go round, what they would like? I am one of that silent majority that wonders, in amazement, why they just don't get it. After all it is a very simple concept to grasp.

Most people have to carry around a wallet that contains some cash, a number of debit and credit cards, one or more stored-value travel cards, some loyalty cards, and identity card and a driver's license. These days they also carry around a mobile phone (sometimes two or more when traveling abroad so as to avoid those incredible roaming fees). What I want, and I suspect millions of others would also appreciate, is discarding the wallet and having all that functionality in the handset. Yes, ALL of it! Not one credit card or one travel card, the whole damn lot, otherwise I end up with the same mess I now have to currently accommodate.
I have no idea who will ever be able to supply me this "NFC nirvana" but I can assure all those trying to offer piecemeal solutions that they simply will not fly. My goal is to use technology to make my life easier and simpler, and I suspect I am not the only one. 

Tony Poulos is the BSS evangelist for the TM Forum and a regular contributor to Telecom Asia