Last May, I penned a piece on how the near-field communications (NFC) technology is starting to gain traction, especially in the region. In that article, I had found out what startups and payments providers thought about the technology, and I realized that there were still several concerns left unaddressed. After all, I had never had first-hand experience with the technology (I’m an iPhone 5 user). But when I started using the BlackBerry Q10 for two weeks, I realized how NFC can play a huge part in our lives, and why Tim Cook should probably have the technology embedded in future iDevices.
If we regard Japan as its own continent, given its success in innovation through the years, Singapore is certainly the next in line for enabling NFC in Asia. You can pay for a taxi, buy a tall latte at Starbucks, check party guests in, share a video and check your transport card balance with just a tap. In fact, I only found out about the ability to pay for a taxi using NFC today when the companies announced that they do not accept VISA payments after July 15.
Of course, NFC has been around for many years. In fact, the NFC Forum was founded in 2004 to educate the market. According to the official website, they now have about 170 members, and aim to do the following:
- Develop standards-based Near Field Communication specifications that define a modular architecture and interoperability parameters for NFC devices and protocols;
- Encourage the development of products using NFC Forum specifications;
- Work to ensure that products claiming NFC capabilities comply with NFC Forum specifications; and,
- Educate consumers and enterprises globally about NFC.
It has been nine years. That’s nine long years of research, education and development. NFC is finally taking off, thanks to massive smartphone usage and Internet accessibility. Technology, once viewed as something worth resisting or a stumbling block, is now seen as a stepping stone. For the poor, learning how to use a computer provides a glimpse of hope that they might one day get better wages and live a more comfortable life. For the affluent, technology paves the way for them to have even more convenience and control over their lives. The old are now embracing the Internet as a way for them to connect with friends and family. The young, needless to say, are best buddies with innovation. Even governments are open to these changes as part of developing the country’s economy.
Last month, I met up with Lokesh Singh, director of mobile financial services (Asia) at Gemalto, a global company which handles digital security, and has been involved with NFC for quite some time now. I learnt that Asia, especially Singapore, is brimming with potential for NFC services. Many major players are stepping in with efforts to bring this technology to the masses. Terence Lee of SGE predicted in 2011 that the previous year might be a big year for NFC in the city-state, but I’m sure the efforts from players can chip in just a bit more.
Excluding Japan as it has surpassed even the US in terms of NFC adoption, here’s a list of major players who have played a part in building the NFC ecosystem here in Asia:
- Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) recently partnered up with StarHub, M1 and SingTel, the three local telcos, to launch NFC payments in the country with One.Tap, a virtual credit card.
- In March, Citibank launched contactless payment stickers for its Quick Pay Tag service. These stickers, according to NFC World, are capped at up to S$100 (US$79.13). Available for Citibank Singapore customers to use with their Citibank Visa credit cards, the tags can be activated (or de-activated) with an SMS.
- Last month, Hong Kong’s Heng Seng Bank saw an earlier-than-expected release of its NFC-enabled mobile payment solution. Customers can download the official payment app from the Google Play store and store multiple cards on the phone. Users can also view their 20 most recent transactions on their phones.
- Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Bank in Hong Kong said last year that they have released their Visa payWave credit card service which works with an NFC-enabled iPhone attachment. Customers will see their purchases capped at a maximum of HK$500 (US$64.46) when using the new technology on payWave point-of-sale terminals. There are over 9,000 of these terminals in Hong Kong.
- ANZ Bank in Australia rolled out an employee trial for its Visa payWave solution last year. Using the bank’s payment app on Optus’ network, it capped purchases at A$100 (US$103). There were 25 employees involved for this trial.
- M1, StarHub and SingTel are all involved in DBS’s NFC-enabled payment solutions in Singapore, as detailed under “Banks”.
- Chunghwa Telecom (CHT), a Taiwanese telco, has partnered with Gemalto and four local banks, namely Cathay United, Chinatrust Commercial, E.Sun, and Taishin. They are also supported by handset makers, HTC Corp, Samsung and Sony. Users will be able to pay at over 20,000 MasterCard PayPass point-of-sale readers across Taiwan. According to the press release, “The pilot also supports additional NFC services such as multiple credit and prepaid cards, loyalty cards, coupons, and ticketing.”
- Optus was reported last December to have launched their second NFC trial. Its first was ANZ Bank reported under “Banks” and the second was for a pilot program with Heritage Bank in Australia as well.
Disclaimer: This particular list within “F&B outlets/Transport/Entertainment is only meant for within Singapore. Information is taken from EZ-Link NFC with the exception of no. 13.
- Burger King
- Cold Storage
- Shop N Save
- Market Place by Jasons
Lokesh said, “[They] have created the highway, now you got to drive in it.” It is important to see this change in attitude as a good thing. It implies that these major players are optimistic about NFC growth and are willing to spend and invest on it.
An article published by Sarah Clark on NFC World further reinforces this point: “There will also be around 140 companies that use a TSM solution in commercially live NFC mobile wallet services worldwide at the end of 2013, up from 57 at the end of 2012, Berg says. “The most active region for TSM projects is currently Asia Pacific, followed by Europe, North America and the Middle East.” TSM refers to a trusted service manager in the NFC scene. The role of these TSMs is not to “participate in actual contactless transactions using NFC devices” but to “act as a commercial intermediary that facilitates contractual arrangements and other aspects of ongoing business relationships between service providers and mobile operators.”
For example, Gemalto is a TSM. The demand for these projects within Asia Pacific reveals that NFC is getting more popular by the minute. If we are myopic and refuse to see the numerous ways it can benefit society, then we’ll lose out on this opportunity.
In terms of potential, Lokesh states that Singapore remains number one. There is a strong financial sector, and the people are already used to contact-less payments, in terms of transport cards. However, after Singapore, he envisions that the next three to catch this wave in Asia Pacific would be Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan. Hong Kong and Taiwan are still relatively small, as compared to Indonesia or Thailand. Furthermore, there is also a high mobile or Internet penetration in all three countries.