NFC has been one of the major themes at MWC in past few years.
NFC was a larger part of the Mobile World Congress than ever before, as the show this year included a fully featured programme dedicated to applications of the contactless technology. A core element of the NFC Experience at the show were the mobile wallet services, which were live in the congress area as well as throughout the city of Barcelona. The mobile wallet services involved seven organizations that had partnered for the event, which shows the complexity of the underlying ecosystem. In fact, the number of partners would have been several more if each company would have contributed in only one area. The partnering organizations were: the GSMA, Sony, Telefónica, Visa Europe, Gemalto, CaixaBank and Accenture. Sony supplied NFC-ready handsets to 3,500 pre-registered attendees. Telefónica developed the mobile wallet application, provided telecommunication services and acted as the secure element issuer. Gemalto delivered NFC SIM cards. Visa Europe brought access to an acceptance network, which comprises more than 16,000 retail POS terminals across Barcelona. CaixaBank provided the prepaid card credentials that were stored on the secure element of the mobile phone, and also gave participants € 15 in prepaid credit. Furthermore, CaixaBank provided access to a location-based service that allows users to find shops, restaurants and other locations where contactless payments are accepted in Barcelona. Another application pre-loaded on the mobile phone was Accenture’s Vouchers and Coupons app, which came loaded with hundreds of offers that could be redeemed at merchants throughout the city.
The wallet app was clearly a concept app designed for the sole purpose of conducting payments. CaixaBank’s service for finding merchants that accept NFC payments was easiest found by scanning a QR code that led to the bank’s website for contactless services. Accenture’s coupon app allowed browsing through coupons for restaurants and shops, as well as finding offers for merchants close to the user’s current location. From a user experience point of view, it would probably be better to have the aforementioned features integrated inside the wallet app or to enable launching the coupon and merchant search apps from within the wallet. However, given that this is a trial service and not a commercial deployment, the more simple-to-deploy option of using separate apps for these features is fully understandable.
From my personal experience, I mainly found time to explore the wallet application as the conference left little time for other activities, and I did not discover the coupon app until the last day of our stay. I did, however, get a chance to try the wallet. After a busy third day at the conference our team set out for some evening activities. After we had picked a restaurant, the first thing I did was to go and inspect the restaurant’s POS terminal for the contactless symbol. The symbol was there, which was a promising sign. However, I could not be sure if the contactless payments feature actually was turned on for accepting Visa PayWave payments, so I asked the waiter about paying with my phone. He was not either sure if it would work, but was happy to let me try. He entered the sum for my first order and I placed the phone against the POS terminal. After a second or two, a message appeared on my phone. Looking at the message, it was clear that the payment had been accepted.
It might have involved some portion of luck, but for me the payment experience was very frictionless and simple. At the same time, it was clear that the novelty factor of paying with a mobile phone would not last forever, and that the future promise of NFC payments really lie in the value-added services that can be wrapped around the payment experience. In order to reach significant levels of acceptance, NFC payments need to work as well as card payments – a payment method that now has been tried and tested for decades. Furthermore, the ecosystem around value added services needs to be built from the ground up, as services delivered through the mobile phone before, during and after the payment are what really will distinguish mobile payments from card payments.