Can The Google Wallet Approach Work Any Better In Russia?

Mobile wallets using near-field communications (NFC) have had a tough time gaining traction in the U.S., but Russian developer i-Free is hoping for better luck on its home turf. On Monday, June 3, the company launched what it says is the first NFC-based mobile wallet with all the standard features: mobile payments, over-the-air delivery of payment-card credentials, transit passes, mobile coupons—in fact, everything except a catchy name.

The wallet is limited to MasterCard (NYSE:MA) accounts issued by online bank Tinkoff Credit Systems Bank and runs on three NFC-equipped Android smartphone models from HTC and Philips, using the NFC Secure Element built into the phones. Support for NFC-compatible SIM cards from mobile carriers will be added soon, and the company says the mobile wallet can be used for both in-store contactless PayPass payments and payment within apps.

In short, it sounds a lot like the original version of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Wallet, except with three times as many phones.

That's not a knock against the project. It's actually an advantage, because it means all the tweaks that Google made to the Android operating system to support Google Wallet can be used by i-Free's version. It also means i-Free's wallet will serve as a test of whether Google Wallet's problem—OK, let's call it what it was, failure—was in its design or with U.S. consumers' notable aversion to anything labeled Visa (NYSE:V) or MasterCard that doesn't have a magnetic stripe on the back.

What i-Free may also manage to avoid is the hostility of mobile carriers, by opening its design to let carriers add their own NFC features using SIMs. Then again, i-Free didn't actually mention the names of any of the three largest mobile carriers in the Commonwealth of Independent States (which includes Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). What's Russian for ISIS, anyway?

For more:
- See this i-Free news release

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