Telco and Bank Plan First Major UK NFC Rollout by Early Summer

UK mobile operator Everything Everywhere and Barclaycard, the credit card unit of UK-based Barclays bank, plan to launch NFC payment by early summer, ending speculation about the time frame for the long-awaited project launch.

The telco and bank-card issuer are touting the planned launch as the first commercial contactless mobile-payment service in the United Kingdom and did not spare the superlatives in describing what they said would be its ultimate impact.

"This is the beginning of a revolution in how we pay for things on the high street," Gerry McQuade, chief development officer of Everything Everywhere, said in a statement. "It’s a cultural shift that is as important as the launch of the personal credit card or ATMs."

Of course, all that remains to be seen and the launch announcement was short on details.

The partners apparently plan to launch NFC initially with only payment–a MasterCard Worldwide PayPass application stored on SIM cards issued by Everything Everywhere. The mobile operator, the United Kingdom’s largest, is a joint venture between France Telecom-Orange UK and T-Mobile UK. Consumers would be able to tap to pay at retail outlets that accept PayPass–now more than 40,000 locations in the United Kingdom. France-based Gemalto is to serve as trusted service manager for Barclaycard, downloading and managing PayPass on the SIMs or personalizing the application if it's preloaded. 

Other NFC services are expected later, but Everything Everywhere and Barclaycard did not say what those other services would be. They likely would include retail loyalty and mobile promotions. It's likely users would also be able to pay fares on buses in London next year by tapping their phones because plans by transit authority Transport for London call for up to 8,000 buses to accept PayPass and other open-loop contactless applications. There likely would be a separate phone app for the transit fare payment.

"This is part of our wider strategy to redefine what people use their mobiles for, with mobile payments being the start," McQuade said.

In addition, neither party speculated on the number or type of NFC phone models British consumers would be able to buy or the type of NFC-enabled apps they’ll be able to download to use the services at the time of the launch.

"We expect the number of handsets we launch will grow over time," a Barclaycard spokeswoman told NFC Times. "More details on the launch proposition will be made in due course."

Earlier this month, another major UK mobile operator, Telefónica O2, disclosed plans to commercially launch NFC services, during the second half of 2011.

That launch will be part of the expansion of the telco’s O2 Money unit. The unit already has two co-branded prepaid cards on issue and said it is considering rolling out co-branded credit cards with a new banking partner as issuer. NatWest bank had issued the prepaid cards, but dropped out of the partnership.

Like O2, Orange UK also appears to be eager to take a larger role in the retail payments business.

Everything Everywhere’s McQuade said in the telco’s announcement today that contactless mobile payments would be featured as part of the wider “Orange portfolio of products,” developed with Barclaycard.

That would include a planned contactless prepaid payment card. Orange and Barclaycard already have rolled out a co-branded contactless credit card, which followed their partnership announcement in 2009.

There was speculation that Everything Everywhere was going to launch NFC commercially before the end of 2010, but it has been waiting for more compelling NFC phones to hit the market. These are expected in the coming months.

In its announcement today, Everything Everywhere would only say it is “working with the world’s leading handset manufacturers” on producing NFC handsets.

Jason Rees, now director of mobile payments and ticketing in Everything Everywhere’s New Business unit, said last fall the telco was intent on “seeding the market” with new NFC phones by offering longer-term commitments to handset makers.

He also indicated that Barclays was only the first bank the telco would be working with.

Barclays and its Barclaycard unit has been the most aggressive of any bank in rolling out contactless payment in the United Kingdom. It accounts for more than 10 million of the 11.6 million contactless credit and debit cards on issue in the country. Barclaycard also has funded most of the contactless point-of-sale terminals now deployed at merchant locations. All told, Barclaycard accounts for 42,500 terminals, mainly in small shops or retail chains.

"I believe that future generations will find it surprising that early this century we were still carrying separate items to buy goods and to communicate with each other in retail outlets," David Chan, CEO of Barclaycard Consumer Europe said in a statement.

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