Monday, December 3, 2012

Gemalto NFC Contactless Challenge: Wrap Up

Two weeks ago I embarked on a challenge: to go contactless for 1 1/2 weeks. On some days, I had to go fully on contactless payment for the entire day. On others, I had to tick off challenges issued by Gemalto and my social media followers. To make it a bit more interesting, I was pitted against Ewan of MobileIndustryReview. It was a crazy 10 days, as far as spending money is concerned. If you are interested, you can read my extensive diary of some sorts, detailing the daily challenges I had to endure.

While the use of NFC and RFID is widespread, contactless payment is a rather new thing in this country. If you have visited London, chances are you've used RFID technology, the precursor to NFC, thanks to the prevalent Oyster card. Most new built residential buildings uses a key fob entry system, which are based on RFID technologies. Chances are your passport, libraries and pets have RFID embedded in them. It really isn't that new a technology, but it is evolving into something much more than just tagging.

So if NFC is more widespread than you think, why is contactless payment off to a really slow start? Well, there's the misconception of security for one. A mobile phone or credit card with contactless chip on it can easily be 'swiped', though this is covered by the usual fraud. Sadly, it appears that banks and credit card providers haven't found a magic formula to convincing people otherwise.
Perhaps if anything, the £20 limitation per transaction proved to be a soup point. When contactless first began its rollout in Britain, the limit was a pitiful £10. This ceiling was increased to £15, and then finally to our current £20 limit during the past couple of months. While £20 is fine for the majority of transactions I made, there were times when I would literally tear my hair in frustration of this arbitrary limitation.

Not only did I have to carefully plan my groceries, or even the choice of restaurants I visit, I had to make sure whatever I bought was below £20. This proved particularly challenging at restaurants where I had my calculator out to make sure the bill does not come below £20 - which is difficult if you are not dining alone. I guess the idea is if the bill happens to be below £20, then by all means, go contactless, if not, well you better have your debit/credit card with you. This limitation alone is probably the reason why I have not found a single cinema that accept contactless, as I am pretty sure in a few years time, £20 per cinema ticket will be a norm.

The difficulty in obtaining compatible devices as well as confusion among the various credit card contactless brands has also stalled the adoption of contactless by both merchants and consumers. A merchant I spoke to mentioned that he removed backed out from contactless as the machine was only compatible with Barclaycard - which I am pretty sure isn't true, but who am I to argue? Then there's the individual brands adopted by various firms such as PayWave, PayPass and ExpressPay aren't exactly consumer friendly terms.
The Samsung Galaxy S III I had was a special Orange-branded device. Users with none-branded Orange Galaxy S III are not allowed to use the Orange Quick Tap application. Even more frustratingly, Orange customers who already own unbranded but still NFC-powered Galaxy S III are not allowed to order an Orange NFC sim card - a key requirement to using the app. Quick Tap exclusions includes not only certain Orange users, but also T-Mobile and EE customers. The mind boggles at how many hoops one has to jump just to carry one less plastic.

On the upside, more retailers are adopting contactless - or are at least equipped with compatible terminals, even if they do not know it yet. Since returning the contactless phone to Brands2Life, the PR agency behind the #GemaltoNFC Contactless Challenge, I honestly can't wait for the technology to take up. Once the novelty factor wore out, using it was second nature. Since then I've stumbled upon more venues offering contactless payment - these includes Cuthberts, a toy store in St Albans and The Cock pub in Fitzrovia, among others.

Still, despite all the issues I have encountered, I am convinced by a contactless and cashless future. As to whether or not our contactless future will be based on the current technology and its limitation remains to be seen, because as the technology stands, contactless payment infrastructure is no where near fast, reliable and widespread enough to convince me I can go completely cashless.

Many thanks to Gemalto, Fiona and everyone at Brands2Life for the opportunity to participate in this interesting experiment, and Ewan for being a great competitor.

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