'Olympics Phone' to Vie for Spot in Telcos’ NFC Lineups

The two UK mobile operators that have announced plans to launch NFC services this year, Everything Everywhere and Telefónica O2 UK, are not yet committing to awarding the planned "Olympics Phone" from Visa Europe and Samsung Electronics a spot in their NFC lineups for next year, but they will at least give the phone an internal tryout.

Visa and Samsung announced they will introduce an NFC phone in the run-up to the Summer Olympic Games in London next year. They said the handset will support a Visa payWave payment application on SIM cards.

That will no doubt be a requirement by the telcos, which Visa is counting on to sell many of the phones before and during the 2012 Olympics. Both Everything Everywhere and O2 UK have made it clear they plan to roll out secure NFC services, such as payment, on SIM cards, which they control. 

Visa and Samsung, both Olympics sponsors, plan to introduce the phone first in the United Kingdom, then elsewhere. But they have released few other details about the handset, including how they will brand it–although a photo Visa released as a mock-up shows a "Visa Mobile" screen on what appears to be an earlier Samsung NFC phone.

All Visa and Samsung have said is that they will provide the phone to sponsored athletes and will also make it available to consumers in the United Kingdom and then around the world. They say they will work with banks and mobile operators to introduce the handset. 

"More details will be announced in due course as Visa and Samsung continue to facilitate discussions amongst local partners," Mary Carol Harris, vice president, innovation and new product and channel development, mobile, for Visa Europe, told NFC Times in a statement, referring to the device as the "Olympics Phone." "The power of this alliance is in pooling Visa's and Samsung's respective sponsorship assets to create something unique in the run-up to and during the games."

Everything Everywhere, a joint venture between Orange UK and T-Mobile UK, and the largest mobile operator in the United Kingdom, is partnering with  credit card issuer and acquirer Barclaycard, along with MasterCard Worldwide, for its NFC launch in early summer. But the telco has said it will work with other banks and presumably other card schemes to put their payment applications onto its SIM cards.

Karen Walsh, head of financial services for Everything Everywhere, told NFC Times that decisions on devices are continuing, adding that "we are working with a number of partners including devices, merchants, banks and schemes to ensure that we continue to build on the momentum of our first to market launch of mobile payments in Q2 this year."

O2 UK, which is planning to issue its own payment applications, though perhaps those supporting the Visa brand, told NFC Times through a spokeswoman that it also sees the Olympics as a key driver for building awareness among consumers for contactless and NFC services and generally supports “initiatives to bring NFC technology to the Olympics.”

"We will look at the detail of the Visa-Samsung announcement, but we are delighted to see a SIM-based NFC solution, which in our opinion will provide the best and most secure option for consumers."

Both telcos are expected to have a range of other NFC handsets on sale by the time the Olympics rolls around in late July 2012. They are expected to want their brands to be displayed prominently on their subscribers’ NFC phone screens. 

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