Singapore NFC Trial Rewards Users By Giving Them The Phones

Here's one way to get people to try using mobile phones to make retail payments: Give them the phones if they buy enough stuff.

That's the deal being offered by Citibank Singapore, Visa payWave and mobile network M1 as part of a 3-month pilot program in Singapore. For the trial, which involves as many as 300 people, the companies are allowing participants to keep the Visa payWave-equipped Nokia 6212 Classic handsets if they make at least eight transactions with the phones each month.

"The aim of the pilot is to get feedback and insight into consumers' mobile payment behavior and motivations," said a statement announcing the trial.

This is hardly the first trial of mobile device payment technology using near-field communication (NFC). During recent years, Visa, and other credit card companies, have tried some creative programs to get folks using, or at least trying, mobile phones as payment devices. More than a year ago, about 230 Oakland, Ca., commuters were involved in a trial where they were issued NFC Samsung phones that could be used to directly pay for the subway, buy food from Jack In The Box restaurants and interact with underground posters to get directions. Six months ago, Visa ran a trial where consumers were able to transfer money using their phones to any other Visa users.

In the Singapore pilot, the phone users are able to make payments of as much as $100. The money is being deducted from their Visa card accounts. The phones work for purchases at more than 750 retailers in the nation.

In a statement, Citibank Singapore Business Director of Credit Payment Products John Denhof said mobile phone payment systems have "great potential to change the future of consumer behavior." However, he acknowledged the existence of some daunting hurdles even in Singapore "which has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world." Those challenges, said Denhof, include commercialization and scalability "in the current environment."

With security rightfully being a major concern, and a big stumbling block to mobile payment adoption, the Singapore trial gives the testers three security options when using the Nokias to make purchases: They can set the phones to make payments without having to enter a passcode or confirmation, they can set them to display a prompt alerting them that a payment is being requested and asking them to give the OK or they can set them to require the entry of a 4-digit PIN before any payment is processed.

The problem with all but the first of these options is that they slow the payment process and, therefore, defeat just about the only real benefit to having a cellphone serve as a credit card. That problem is likely to be addressed during the Singapore trial by surveys of the participants to find out what they liked and disliked. "A post-pilot assessment will also be conducted to consolidate the trends in participants' mobile payment behavior and experiences," said the companies.

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