Companies struggle to expand mobile money

A man uses the NFC payment Visa system on Feb. 27 at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show, in Barcelona, Spain.Mobile money might seem like a hot concept, but consumers aren’t warming to it.

At the world’s largest cellphone trade show in Barcelona this week, the 70,000 attendees are encouraged to use their cellphones — instead of their keycards — to get past the turnstiles at the door. But, very few people took the chance to do that. The process of setting up the phone to act as a keycard proved too much of a hassle.

It’s a poor omen for an industry that’s eager to have the cellphone replace both tickets and credit cards. Companies are building chips and antennas into phones that let the gadgets interact with “tap to pay” terminals and other devices equipped with short-range sensors, like subway turnstiles. But, getting the technology to do something useful and convincing people to adopt it is a slow process.

To make a payment in a store with your cellphone, “you need a lot of things to align,” said Reed Peterson, who heads the Near-Field Communications initiative for the GSM Association, a global trade group for the wireless industry. The phone needs to be properly equipped with NFC hardware and software; the store needs to have the proper equipment and training. The phone company needs to support the transaction, and banks and payment processors need to be in on it.

Some of these things have fallen into place, Peterson said, but the network of commercial agreements that supports these payments needs to expand. And consumer demand remains elusive.

“I want to get to the point where the consumer goes into the store and says, ‘Show me only the phones that have NFC,’ ” Peterson said.

Today, a buyer is quite likely to go into a store and ask for an iPhone, and that’s an obstacle to NFC adoption. Apple Inc. is the lone holdout among major smartphone makers and hasn’t built NFC into any of its devices yet.

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