Mobile commerce apps gaining ground in U.S.

But Near Field Communications slow to arrive, conference panelists say

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mobile payment and mobile commerce applications are proliferating in the U.S., but the adoption of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology that allows mobile phone customers to quickly tap a mobile phone and pay for a subway ride or a grocery store purchase is years away, several industry officials said at a conference here.

At this week's Go Mobile 2009 conference, more than a dozen companies showed off technologies that help users pay bills or purchase items over the Internet from a smartphone or other wireless device, similar to the way millions already use a computer to make purchases.

But no vendors were selling or promoting NFC equipment, even though Vivotech Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. recently said it has sold 400,000 card-reading devices to retailers in the U.S. Those check-out devices read credit cards containing a chip that communicates over the wireless NFC standard; the chips could eventually end up in phones.

So far, just three mobile phones sold around the world have NFC chips, and most chip reading terminals seem to be in Japan, conference panelists noted. In fact, millions of Japanese commuters use the NFC technology in wallet phones to board subway trains.

In other countries, however, it will take years for subway systems to convert to NFC, and even longer for a wide range of retailers to follow suit, panelists saod. In the U.S., subway systems are run by each city and the recession means subway administrators will likely hold onto payment terminals as long as possible, said Cameron Franks, direct of global accounts for Sybase 365 Mobile Services, a Sybase division.

"NFC is most likely to happen first in countries where mass transit is centrally operated," Franks said. Instead of NFC, Sybase is focusing on person-to-person mobile payments and remote payments technology using a team of 400 mobile commerce workers to build applications. In one example, Franks mentioned that Sybase worked with RBC Mobex in Canada, where Web-to-mobile and mobile-to-mobile payments are supported by using SMS texting. In that system, which is sometimes used by Verisign Inc. and other competitors, a mobile user doesn't have to set up a relationship with someone else. Instead, funds are transferred from a credit card or a PayPal account.

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