UAE Telco Considers Launching NFC Bridge Technologies

Oct 24 2010

United Arab Emirates mobile operator du is weighing options for the possible launch of mobile payment with banks, along with other services, using NFC bridge technologies to try to turn popular smartphones, such as the iPhone, into payment devices. 

U.S.-based NFC technology company Vivotech announced Oct. 20 that UAE-based payment services company Teletech Middle East would use Vivotech's trusted service manager platform to download and provision credit, debit and prepaid cards to the add-ons or NFC bridge technologies for du and one or more banks and possibly other telcos. Vivotech would also provide mobile-wallet software and would deliver loyalty applications and coupons over the air. 

It was unclear whether any service, even a trial, would launch, especially before the end of 2010 as the release stated. If it does, it would probably be a trial since the NFC bridge or alternative technologies, such as contactless microSDs and iPhone attachments, are still in field tests and have yet to be certified by the major card networks, Visa and MasterCard Worldwide. Visa and at least four banks in the United States are testing contactless microSDs. Visa also plans similar pilots in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe and is likely going to also test an iPhone attachment called iCarte produced by Canada-based Wireless Dynamics.

Vivotech president Mohammad Khan said Teletech Middle East would offer TSM services in the UAE and elsewhere in the Gulf using the Vivotech platform on "multiple technologies to offer a broader set of existing smartphone models," and would offer it to du and other mobile operators and banks.

UPDATE: "Clearly, du, as mentioned in the press release, will be the first one to roll out mobile payment–marketing services based on (the) Teletech TSM offering," Vivotech president Mohammad Khan told NFC Times last week. "Number of users may not be limited." 

But it could not be confirmed by NFC Times whether du, in fact, plans to launch mobile-payment services using the smartphone accessories. Teletech Middle East, which apparently has started a new TSM operation, counts du as a customer for other business. END UPDATE. According to the Vivotech release, the mobile-payment service in the UAE would enable customers of the unnamed banks to download the payment applications to “multiple” BlackBerrys and the past three iPhone models, among other smartphones. 

UPDATE: There's no doubt du is interested in NFC and related technologies. It launched a trial nearly a year ago using full NFC phones late and has been waiting for NFC phones to hit the market. It also is studying NFC bridge or alternative technologies closely.

The telco reportedly demonstrated NFC or other contactless-mobile technology at last week's Gitex trade show in Dubai, but it wasn't clear if du was showing smartphone bridge technologies or not. Du chief commercial officer Farid Faraidooni did say in a statement the telco planned to extend “NFC electronic-wallet functionality” into existing smartphones this year, although he did not elaborate. "As more and more mobile device manufacturers include NFC functionalities directly into their devices, we can quickly make those future devices available in the UAE," he added.

Du might use the iPhone attachment from Wireless Dynamics, which does not use microSDs. It's also possible du would use microSDs with the iPhone. If so, the flash-memory cards would carry a Visa payWave contactless application and also use a contactless iPhone case or sleeve from U.S.-based DeviceFidelity. The sleeve contains a microSD card slot, which the iPhone doesn’t have. DeviceFidelity would also supply the cards. Many BlackBerry and other smartphone models have their own microSD slots. 

In any case, there are relatively few contactless terminals at present that accept payWave or MasterCard PayPass cards in the UAE. UPDATE: One estimate put the number of merchant locations or terminals at fewer than 300. 

Du, or Emirates Integrated Telecommunications, launched a trial late last year or early this year along with Dubai First bank with full NFC phones, using a PayPass application. Competing UAE operator Etisalat has postponed planned NFC projects because of the scarcity of phones, but reportedly plans to launch an NFC phone trial soon with Emirates NBD bank. END UPDATE.


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