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At McDonald's, ExpressPay Fits the Bill

The fast food giant is accepting American Express RFID-enabled payment cards, called ExpressPay, at 12,000 U.S. locations.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 23, 2006For patrons with American Express RFID-enabled ExpressPay cards, fast food can now be even faster at 12,000 U.S. McDonald's locations. That's because these stores are now accepting the cards, which use radio frequency to send encrypted account data to readers integrated in point-of-sale systems. ExpressPay transactions are quicker than paying with cash or conventional magnetic-stripe cards.

"Given that so many of our customers are all about speed of service and convenience, this is a perfect fit," says McDonald's spokesperson William Whitman. "We're hearing from our customers at front counters and drive-throughs that this is a convenience they appreciate."

American Express first started issuing its Blue line of credit cards with the 13.56 MHz, ISO-14443-compliant RFID ExpressPay inlays in June (see AmEx Adds RFID to Blue Credit Cards). It also embeds the inlay in its Clear card line, introduced in October. The Blue and Clear cards include a magnetic stripe for use in conventional credit card readers, as well. An embedded RFID tag is interrogated when the card passes within a few centimeters of RFID-enabled card readers integrated in point-of-sale systems. American Express Blue or Clear cardholders may also request an ExpressPay key fob.

McDonald's began testing RFID payments in 2002, with trials using Exxon Mobil's RFID payment system, Speedpass, as well as another proprietary system called FreedomPay (see Gilbarco: RFID Pumps Up Profits). After testing was completed, however, the restaurant chain did not roll out either system. Instead, in summer 2004, the company announced it would begin accepting payments via the MasterCard PayPass RFID platform, beginning with some 700 locations in Dallas, New York and Orlando, Fla. According to Whitman, all 12,000 McDonald's locations that accept ExpressPay cards also take PayPass.

Unlike American Express, however, MasterCard does not issue its own cards, so some banks already issuing MasterCard credit and debit cards are also issuing MasterCard cards with PayPass. Chase is issuing MasterCard PayPass-enabled cards, as well as Visa RFID-enabled cards with the Visa Contactless platform, branding the cards under the "blink" name (see Chase Offers Contactless Cards in a Blink). MBNA is also issuing PayPass-enabled cards, while Citibank is distributing PayPass cards and keychain fobs to its MasterCard credit and debit accountholders. HSBC Bank USA and KeyBank are currently issuing MasterCard debit cards with PayPass, as well.

Though the three RFID payment platforms—ExpressPay, PayPass and Visa Contactless—employ discrete encryption methods, they all use the same air-interface protocol described by the ISO 14443 standard. Consequently, all three can be read by a single RFID interrogator built into POS systems.

McDonald's uses RFID-enabled Omni 7000MPD payment terminals from VeriFone to accept the PayPass and ExpressPay cards. "The goal was to make sure we had a platform across the stores that was consistent, provided ease of use for customers, and was a platform that would let our owner-operators deploy the system without a lot of hardware and software investment," says Whitman.

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