Blackberry NFC Trial Getting Pushy

As contactless-payment advocates wait (and wait and wait) for widespread public acceptance of cell phones that can take the place of payment cards, vendors and credit card companies keep launching trials. One of the latest, by MasterCard Canada, BMO Bank of Montreal and Research In Motion, involves what appears to be the world's first use of push E-mail—instead of the more costly SMS—as the method of informing users that a transaction was successful.

The four-month-long trial that began in November is significantly limited in scope, involving only BlackBerry devices. And it doesn't even involve BlackBerries with payment chips installed. Instead, the effort involves NFC payment chip stickers attached to the backs of the smartphones.

MasterCard Canada, which touted the trial as something that "brings contactless payments via mobile devices a step closer to Canadians," said the trial entails participants making purchases at any of the 8,500 retailers in Canada that accept MasterCard PayPass. "For the first time, the mobile payment will integrate with the device, with a confirmation E-mail of each transaction sent to the BlackBerry smartphone, including purchase details such as the amount, retailer and date of transaction," said a MasterCard statement. The company said the PayPass "Mobile Tag" sticker has the same NFC chip and antenna as the regular PayPass card, but it also features "special material to reduce interference between the Mobile Tag and the phone to which it is attached."

The fact that the transaction details are instantly E-mailed to the BlackBerry, something that can take place over the secure BlackBerry network, separates this trial from others that used NFC payment stickers. Granted, it's a rudimentary level of NFC/mobile phone integration, at least compared to the type of from-the-factory integration being discussed for the next-generation iPhone. But it's more consumer friendly than merely issuing payment stickers (that can be affixed to almost anything carried by a user, such as a wallet) and requiring the users to pay for text messages to receive transaction confirmations.

MasterCard said data protection is provided by "robust, multi-level security protections, including the encryption of PayPass radio frequency transaction transmissions and the multiple security protections of the MasterCard payment system." The card brand added that over 66 million PayPass cards and devices were in use at more than 174,000 merchant locations worldwide by the end of the third-quarter of 2009.