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Bank of America to Test Contactless microSD Cards with Visa

Aug 20 2010 (All day)

Another bank in the United States has disclosed plans to test contactless-mobile payment using microSD cards. (Updated).

Bank of America, one of the largest banks in the U.S., confirmed it would use the tiny flash memory cards in a trial planned to begin in September in New York City, Reuters news service reported today. The trial, which will run through the end of the year, will involve an undisclosed number of employees and customers, who will insert the microSD cards with Visa payWave applications onboard into smartphones. UPDATE: The smartphone models will include Apple's iPhone. END UPDATE

News of the trial follows earlier reports that another large American bank, U.S. Bank, will test the contactless microSDs later in the fall. The cards for both trials are supplied by U.S.-based DeviceFidelity under an exclusive agreement with Visa. Some U.S. Bank trial participants will use special attachments for Apple’s iPhone, which does not come with an SD-card slot. In Turkey, Akbank and Visa Europe have also said they plan to test the microSDs.

"We see this as a critical capability given the increasing acceptance and adoption of bank services on the phone," Bank of America's head of electronic commerce, Laurie Readhead, told Reuters.

UPDATE: A Bank of America spokeswoman told NFC Times that trial participants will be able to use the microSD cards and the BofA mobile wallet with BlackBerry models 9000 9630 and 9700, in addition to the iPhone. That will take in both subscribers of Verizon and AT&T, she said, the two largest U.S. mobile operators. The iPhone users would get the contactless attachment made by DeviceFidelity. But she indicated the service would not be limited to the Visa network. "The mobile wallet used for this trial will support the major networks," she said, though declined to elaborate. It's unclear what other networks would be involved. The trial could potentially involve microSD cards from another supplier, although that is unlikely. END UPDATE.

The contactless microSDs are considered a bridge technology to full NFC phones, which are not yet on the market. But some banks might be tempted to continue to use the flash cards, since they allow the financial institutions to bypass mobile operators and offer mobile payment directly to customers. The big U.S. banks could find themselves competing directly with the largest U.S. telcos, including Verizon and AT&T, which are planning their own payment scheme using NFC phones.

The contactless microSDs only work in card-emulation mode, that is, they cannot read data from other contactless chips or exchange data in peer-to-peer mode, as NFC phones can. But unlike passive-contactless stickers, the microSDs are designed to communicate directly with apps on the phones. Vendors are also trying to incorporate full NFC in the microSDs.

Except for the iPhone attachment, which has a full contactless antenna, most microSDs require a power boost from the phones to transmit data to point-of-sale terminal readers.

Visa, which has been testing the microSD cards internally, likely plans more tests of the microSDs with banks.

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