MasterCard to Trial iPhone NFC Attachment in Asia

MasterCard Worldwide plans to trial an NFC-enabled iPhone attachment in Asia soon, the card network confirmed to NFC Times.

The attachment, iCarte, from Canada-based Wireless Dynamics, would carry a MasterCard PayPass application in an embedded secure chip, enabling users to tap their iPhone 4 handsets to pay where the PayPass is accepted. The device, which has an NFC chip from NXP Semiconductors, would also be able to read tags.

“The iCarte is currently being trialed internally with a small number of users–less than 100–and we hope to expand this to a wider base of consumers in the near future,” David Chan, MasterCard’s head of customer delivery for Southeast and South Asia, said in a recent statement to NFC Times.

Trials are expected to be held in Singapore and Malaysia and use Singapore-based Cassis International as trusted service manager to provision the PayPass applications over the air on the secure chips, NFC Times has learned.

Among those planning to trial the device are Singapore’s EZ-Link Pte, mainly an issuer of the contactless electronic purse, ez-link, used for transit, along with some retail purchases. But EZ-Link also issues a MasterCard branded prepaid card, called Fevo.

Chan declined to confirm that EZ-Link would be involved in the trial, but MasterCard’s group executive for mobile, Mung-Ki Woo, earlier mentioned in a blog that EZ-Link would be one of the trial participants with the Fevo prepaid PayPass application. It’s not clear whether EZ-Link’s transit purse would also be on the phones, though likely not.

EZ-Link is participating in another trial of an NFC bridge technology with MasterCard with the transit e-purse. The project uses a SIM attached to a flexible contactless antenna, supplied by France-based Gemalto. It also involves mobile operator StarHub and DBS Bank. Chan described the potential for MasterCard to use bridge technologies for mobile payment in a video on YouTube.

In Malaysia, mobile operator Maxis Communications has expressed some interest in bridge technologies, though Claire Margaret Featherstone, head of new business at Maxis, recently told NFC Times that regarding iPhone attachments, “we have no firm plans at this moment, but we are very excited by the major device manufacturer roadmaps for NFC in second half of 2011.”

Visa Europe in late January announced a trial in Turkey and an internal trial in the United Kingdom of the iCarte. It also has plans to trial the device in other markets in Europe. Visa has trialed contactless microSD cards in the iPhone and other smartphones, as well.

The microSDs, as well as the iCarte have corresponding apps for the smartphones, which consumers use to access the payment applications stored on the secure chips in the add-ons. For iCarte, for example, users would download an app from Apple’s App Store to use the PayPass service. By tapping, consumers would be using NFC’s card emulation mode.

Chan and Woo noted that since the iCarte supports two-way communication, it also can read NFC smart posters, as well as downloading e-coupons, tickets or receipts. 

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