Canada’s Rogers Planning NFC Mobile-Payment Launch

Rogers Wireless, Canada’s largest mobile operator, is gearing up for an NFC mobile-payment launch, NFC Times has learned.

The telco is planning to work with at least one bank and probably Visa Inc. but not other Canadian operators, said the sources. Rough plans call for launching by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

Speculation for the banking partner is falling on Toronto-Dominion Bank Group, a major Visa card issuer, with 4 million card accounts. The bank has issued contactless payWave cards for about 90% of those accounts, with a total 3.6 million contactless Visa payWave cards on issue from its TD Canada Trust arm. TD announced this week it is buying the MBNA Canada credit card business from Bank of America, adding nearly 2 million MasterCard-branded cards. Both MasterCard and Visa have been active in pushing contactless card rollouts in Canada.

A TD spokeswoman would not confirm whether the bank was in serious talks with Rogers to participate in an NFC launch. “TD consistently reviews the market and discusses the best approach to offer mobile payments to our customers with many players in the mobile-payment ecosystem, including Rogers,” she told NFC Times

Rogers Wireless, part of Rogers Communications, was unavailable for comment on the planned launch. Earlier this year, vice president for new business planning, David Robinson, was quoted as saying Rogers has plans to distribute NFC phones–though he did not give a date–and was working with the GSM Association to pressure handset makers to develop NFC phones with certain features.  

Those features include support for the single-wire protocol standard, which enables secure applications to be stored on SIM cards, which telcos issue to their subscribers. Rogers has been a part of the GSM Association’s Pay-Buy Mobile NFC program, which has helped coordinate SIM-based NFC trials, among other activities.

In April, Rogers was part of a $19 million funding round led by American Express for U.S.-based startup Payfone, which enables consumers to purchase digital and physical goods using their mobile phone numbers to charge it back to their monthly mobile bills, bank accounts, credit cards or AmEx Serve accounts. Payfone does not now support NFC.

Rogers has been involved in at least in one NFC trial, an internal pilot in 2009 largely organized by Royal Bank of Canada. The trial tested payment with a Visa payWave application.

Last year Rogers was part of a passive sticker trial through EnStream, its joint venture with the two other major Canadian mobile operators, Bell Mobility and Telus. EnStream offers a network-based funds transfer service, Zoompass. The trial tested use of companion stickers to contactless prepaid MasterCard PayPass cards subscribers to the service could use to spend at physical stores from their Zoompass accounts.

But Rogers, which had 9.1 million subscribers at the end of the first quarter–good for a leading 36% market share in Canada–is not thought to be working with either Bell or Telus on the NFC launch, according to sources.

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