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RFID Payment Platforms Gaining Momentum

At last week's CardTech 2007 payments industry conference, Visa, MasterCard and American Express provided updates on their RFID-enabled payments rollouts.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 24, 2007For Peter Ho, Wells Fargo Card Services' vice president and product manager, a comment from a restaurant employee in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., made all his hard work over the past year or so worthwhile. The young man recognized the credit card Ho used to pay for a meal, saying, "Hey, that's one of those contactless cards—I've been trying to get one," Ho told attendees of this week's CardTech 2007 payments industry conference in San Francisco.

Ho, who spearheaded Wells Fargo's rollout of an RFID-enabled Visa credit card last year, said that experience validated several important points. First, younger people "get it" and are ready to embrace RFID (contactless) payment cards. Second, the logo on the face of the Visa RFID card—which depicts radio waves and has been adopted by the three biggest U.S. credit card associations (American Express, MasterCard and Visa) as a means of signifying RFID-enabled devices—has become an effective icon. The companies had agreed to print the logo on all their RFID-enabled cards to make it easy for consumers to know where the cards can be used, because the same logo appears on point-of-sale terminals equipped to read the RFID tags embedded inside the cards (or other devices, such as fobs).

In addition to Wells Fargo, BB&T, Chase and SunTrust have also begun issuing Visa's RFID credit and debit cards, and JCB is issuing them in Europe. Chase issues MasterCard RFID cards as well, both under the Blink brand. In total, 7 million Visa RFID cards have been issued to date—half the number of MasterCard RFID cards and keychain fobs consumers now carry—though Visa is making a push to amp up its RFID payment program.

To that end, Visa recently branded its RFID payment devices (it will also come out with fobs and other form factors), changing the name from "Visa Contactless" to "payWave." Though the credit-card association had announced its use of RFID in payments in 2004, it had not created a brand name for the cards until now. The term "payWave" is intended to connote how a customer moves the card in front of a reader to complete a transaction.

Earlier this month, Visa also announced plans for a major rollout of payWave cards in Europe, beginning with a U.K. launch starting this fall. Visa is working with HSBC, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), Lloyds TSB (a group of U.K.-based financial services companies) and London's Barclays bank to issue the cards. Additionally, through a partnership with the London public transportation system, Visa is developing an RFID-enabled payment card that will also function as an Oyster payment card for transit fares. More than 10 million Oyster cards, containing NXP's MiFare high-frequency RFID chip, have already been issued to British commuters.

Using the combined Visa/Oyster card, commuters will be able to pay for transit fares and also purchase goods at RFID-enabled payment terminals that accept Visa's RFID payment protocol, because the chip embedded in the cards will support both the Oyster and Visa protocols. Visa says around 200,000 consumers will receive the cards, which Barclays and the other two partner banks will initially issue. About 2,000 retailers will accept the Visa payWave cards in London.

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