Visa Europe Soon to Trial Bridge Technologies

Visa Europe plans to launch trials of mobile payment over the next few months using NFC bridge technologies, with a "view to commercializing" some of the devices, according to Visa Europe’s head of mobile.

Visa plans the trials in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland and Italy, among other places. Some trials could be launched within weeks, said Visa Europe’s Mary Carol Harris, who was speaking at the recent Mobile Payment Services conference in Barcelona.

We're looking at a number of different bridge technologies," she told NFC Times. Depending on the results of the trials, which would test the performance of the technology as well as consumer acceptance, Visa would decide whether to commercialize them.

"We think there’s definitely a market for these technologies," she added at the conference.

Harris declined to give more specifics or name banks that would participate in the trials, except for Akbank of Turkey, which Visa Europe has already announced will run a trial of a Visa payWave application loaded onto contactless microSD cards produced by Visa's exclusive vendor partner DeviceFidelity. Visa announced the Turkish trial in August, but did not specify a date for the launch. Harris said it would begin before the end of the year. It was unclear whether the trial would include use of U.S.-based DeviceFidelity’s attachment enabling customers with Apple’s iPhone to use the Visa microSDs.

NFC Times in June also reported that Visa would likely endorse another accessory that could turn the iPhone into a contactless-payment device, the iCarte, from Canada-based Wireless Dynamics. The device offers full NFC functionality and embeds a secure chip that can store credit, debit or prepaid payment applications. A Visa Europe presentation in June had mentioned an exclusive agreement for use of the iCarte, with pilots planned in the late third quarter of 2010. Those trials were obviously delayed.

Wireless Dynamics last summer was still waiting for certification from Visa to carry payWave, though if Visa hasn’t yet certified the devices, it could issue a waiver for trials.

Visa Europe likely will target sites for the trials in cities with a significant base of payWave readers in merchant outlets. That includes London; Istanbul, Turkey; and Warsaw, Poland. Among banks likely to participate is Barclays and its credit card arm, Barclaycard, which has been aggressively rolling out contactless technology in the United Kingdom.

Many of the bridge or alternative NFC devices enable banks to introduce mobile payment without waiting for full NFC phones and without working directly with mobile operators. But Visa Europe might also work with telcos on some of the trials and besides the microSDs and iCarte, might also make use of devices that store payment applications on SIMs or SIM overlays with flexible antennas. These SIM-based devices give more control to mobile operators.

But Visa Europe is also working with full NFC phones. Harris at the conference also reviewed results of a trial Visa has been involved in with la Caixa bank and mobile operator Telefónica in Spain.

The trial, launched last May in the town of Sitges, outside Barcelona, is scheduled to run through November. The bank had earlier released results after the first month of the pilot, which showed that at least 60% of 1,500 users had conducted at least one transaction at any of 500 merchants accepting Visa payWave in the town. Customers conducted an average of three transactions apiece, according to the bank, which said that about 60% of transactions were under 20€ (US$27.80). Just over 50% of customers tapped their phones for purchases at supermarkets, while restaurants accounted for 14% of transactions.

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