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RIM Supports BlackBerry Contactless Sticker Trial

Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, is participating in a mobile-payment trial with contactless MasterCard PayPass stickers and a tie-in to its e-mail service.

The trial is not so important for the combined 200 stickers the Bank of Montreal and MasterCard Canada will hand out to some of their employees and those of RIM to stick onto the back of their BlackBerry phones. But it does indicate a growing interest on the part of the Canada-based smartphone maker in mobile commerce, including contactless payment and other applications. NFC Times has learned RIM has been evaluating NFC chips for possible inclusion in one or more of its BlackBerry models.

The trial, planned to last four months, involves passive contactless stickers, which cannot communicate directly with the phones they are attached to. They are similar to contactless cards, although they have a shorter range and incorporate shielding to help prevent metal in handsets or other devices they are attached to from distorting radio waves carrying transaction data between the stickers and readers.

But unlike other passive stickers that banks and other issuers are considering trialing or rolling out while they wait for phones supporting NFC to hit the market, users of the PayPass stickers in the BlackBerry trial will receive indirect communication from the stickers, via the bank-processing network.

MasterCard will use its inControl platform, which will send e-mails to the preregistered BlackBerry users after they tap the stickers for purchases at such PayPass merchants as Tim Hortons fast-food restaurants or Petrol Canada stations. The e-mails will confirm the amount of the purchase, name of the retailer and transaction date. MasterCard developed the system with Ireland-based Orbiscom, which MasterCard later acquired for about $100 million.  

All told, 8,500 merchant locations accept PayPass in Canada, but trial participants can technically tap the stickers to pay anywhere PayPass is accepted worldwide. France-based Inside Contactless is supplying the stickers.

The e-mail confirmations are designed to work with users of 8800 series BlackBerrys or higher. But inControl and other systems like it that offer mobile subscribers payment alerts, can use other e-mail services or SMS to communicate with customers.

Combined with the inControl system, the passive PayPass stickers provide more of an integrated payment experience than passive stickers alone, “while we wait full NFC,” Scott Lapstra, vice president, market development, MasterCard Canada, told NFC Times.

But unlike with NFC, issuers of passive stickers cannot download a payment application over the air to their customers’ phones or enable other direct communication between the application and handset. Also, banks or other issuers cannot allow users to download coupons or other promotional content by tapping smart posters.

While RIM is not saying whether it will introduce NFC in future BlackBerrys, Lapstra did say the trial gives the phone maker an idea of “how mobile payment might work on smartphones and a chance to partner with the Bank of Montreal and MasterCard to learn about that experience.”

NFC market watchers hope adoption of NFC by RIM and other high-profile phone makers, especially Apple, could end delays and spur rollouts. Apple is also evaluating NFC chips, NFC Times has learned and is rumored to be planning to incorporate the technology in its next generation of iPhones.

But unlike RIM, Apple is said to disapprove of consumers putting stickers on its phones.

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