AT&T Inc.'s mobile boss said Wednesday morning that Near-Field Communications (NFC) trials are under way in Austin and Salt Lake City and that the next challenge is to get the secure mobile wallet technology into the devices.
NFC is a short-range wireless chip that is supposed to enable a user to tap their smartphone on a vending or ticket machine and buy stuff. AT&T started working on the trials in October as part of the Isis mobile commerce venture. (See US Wireless Operators Spend Big on mCommerce.)
"What you're seeing now is a lot of efforts putting the technology in the device," AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega said in response to questions at a UBS AG technology conference in New York City on Wednesday.
De la Vega noted that the tests are still at an early stage.
Where the trial stands now, the CEO notes, is work on deploying a secure SIM element in the device so that "the customer can walk out of the store with a secure wallet."
As part of the trial, cashless vending company USA Technologies is installing NFC technology in 7,5000 vending machines in Austin and Salt Lake City.
Part of the problem for AT&T and Isis is that many popular wireless devices, such as the iPhone 5, still don't offer support for the NFC chip to enable that particular route to mobile payments from the smartphone. (See Did Apple Just Kill NFC?)
Juniper Research Ltd. has just issued a report warning of "NFC indifference" in the short term because of the lack of iPhone support. It is now predicting that global NFC retail transaction values will reach $110 billion in 2017, below the $180 billion previously forecast because of less retailer and brand confidence in the technology.
Still, AT&T's de la Vega is hoping that NFC technology will be available in 40 million phones in the U.S. by the end of 2013.
â€” Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile