UK mobile giants team up on NFC payments

An all-powerful triumvirate of UK mobile giants has teamed up to bring NFC payments to the masses.

In a rare showing of entente cordial, O2, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone have announced a joint venture that will make touch-to-pay transactions using Near Field Communications technology a reality for millions of mobile users.

Sometimes called a 'digital wallet', the technology uses short-distance wireless signals to connect a device like a mobile phone to a payment kiosk, allowing small items and travel tickets to be purchased without cash. Anyone who has seen the London Underground's Oyster Card in action will be familiar with the technology.

Although NFC will bring obvious benefits to those of us who don't like lugging a fat wallet around all the time, there will be some caveats. The trouble with having an NFC-equipped device is that the companies paying for the infrastructure have to turn a buck somehow and, as with all things in this digital age, the price we'll have to pay is in ever-more-pervasive marketing and tracking.

Walk past an NFC-enabled advertising kiosk too closely and you'll probably be nagged to buy whatever the digital poster is promoting. And every time you buy a travel ticket, someone somewhere will be tracking your every move.

The launch of widespread NFC will, of course, come with a raft of new legislation to protect consumers, and will be liberally sprinkled with opt-out mechanisms, but most users will probably merrily go through their lives unaware that everywhere they go, and everything they buy, and everyone they meet, will be logged by a faceless marketing department.

Those involved in the joint venture (JV) will, of course, spin it in an entirely different direction as Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2 parent company Telefónica UK proves.

"The JV will be the first of its kind in the UK and, if approved by the relevant authorities, it will bring a host of benefits to consumers across the country through relevant and targeted offers and deals and payment services like the mobile wallet," he said.

The three companies involved say the technology should be launched in the UK by the end of the year and could spread to other around the world if it all pans out well.

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