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.
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.
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.