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NFC to Come Standard in Sprint LTE Phones

Sarah Thomas
1/11/2012
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LAS VEGAS -- 2012 International CES -- Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) will make Near-Field Communications (NFC) a standard feature in all of its Long Term Evolution (LTE) smartphones, save for the very cheapest devices, an executive said here Wednesday.

The Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Wallet partner plans to be aggressive in promoting the contactless technology, Trevor Van Norman, director of consumer product marketing, told LR Mobile in an interview. Including NFC chips in devices adds complexity and cost, so he said that free or the lowest-end may have to forgo it. But, all others will include it.

"We're making a big bet [on NFC]," he said, adding that Sprint wants to build up the device ecosystem, but then expects consumer adoption to grow quickly. "There's no learning curve with NFC."

Sprint has been working with Google on its mobile payments and loyalty service since last May. The service lets users make payments with a Citi MasterCard or Google pre-paid card by tapping their phones on an NFC reader, but it's only been available on the Samsung Corp. Nexus S. (See Google Taps Sprint for Tap-to-Pay and Sprint Stakes Its mCommerce Claim.)

This week, however, the carrier added the Samsung Nexus and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) Viper as its first LTE smartphones, both of which will come equipped with Google Wallet when they launch this year. (See Sprint Unveils First 3 LTE Devices.)

Sprint is the de facto, exclusive partner to Google Wallet, too, Van Norman noted, by virtue of the fact that the other wireless operators have formed their own joint venture -- Isis -- to push NFC-enabled mCommerce. Verizon Wireless even blocked Google Wallet on its Galaxy S, citing security concerns, but Van Norman believes it was most likely a business issue. (See Verizon Blocking Google Wallet? Poor Decision, How Secure Is Your Google Wallet? and US Carriers Combine Mobile Wallets.)

Sprint is leaving most of the NFC service up to Google, but Van Norman believes this is good business for the carrier. Sprint is still getting a cut of the action -- not through transaction fees like with Isis, but through redeemed coupons or Google offers.

"It's in our best interest to push the service," he said. "We want to drive transactions, but it's to get a cut of the offer."

Sprint also has NFC on two BlackBerry devices, the Curve and Bold, but service is enabled through BlackBerry .

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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