NFC 'Add-On' Links Smart Phones, Contactless Pay

Article excerpt

Byline: Thad Reuter

PARIS - The start-up technology vendor Zenius Solutions Inc. has developed a way to add contactless payment capabilities to smart phones that links the transaction functions to the mobile devices' operating systems.

A numberof financial companies have tested phones with built-in near-field communication chips that deliver contactless payment capabilities, but very few of these devices are available for sale.

As a bridge, some companies are selling stickers that have contactless payment features and are commonly attached to phones, but do not actually communicate with the mobile devices.

Zenius' chief technology officer, Ming-Li Liu, called the product an "NFC add-on." The Redding, Calif., company demonstrated the payment tool this week at the Cartes and Identification conference here.

The product has two components. One part fits into a phone's existing SIM card slots and is linked by a flexible cable to another section that includes the NFC chip and antenna, and which can be attached to the outside of the phone. Zenius developed the software and the hardware comes from Bladox SRO of the Czech Republic.

The setup enables users to make contactless payments at the point of sale and manage their various card accounts through a mobile wallet application that can be installed on smart phones such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone or Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices.

Liu said the system could appeal to people who are already using smart phones and might not be interested in replacing them when new models are available with built-in NFC chips.

"If you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, you are not going to switch to another phone," Liu said.

Though NFC-ready phones are rare now, some observers said that Nokia Corp. and other handset makers could make the feature more common next year.

"We're almost there," said Jeremy Belostock, Nokia's head of NFC.

Many of the previous tests of NFC mobile payments have used Nokia phones. The paucity of other vendors selling similar handsets, andskepticism about the business model for the technology, have hampered progress.

James Davlouros, a MasterCard Inc. …