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Visa and Wells Fargo Testing NFC Payments

The two companies have started with internal tests involving Wells Fargo employees, but plan to involve consumers in the fourth quarter.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 02, 2007Wells Fargo and Visa are currently running a three-phase pilot project in the San Francisco Bay area. The pilot is intended to test consumer interest in using cell phones to function as contactless credit or debit cards.

The project will employ phones containing a module that employs RFID technology to transmit and receive data at 13.56 MHz, using the near-field communication (NFC) specification. NFC technology is designed to enable consumers to purchase goods, download information and establish device-to-device communications via cell phones or other electronic devices, such as personal digital assistants, computers and home entertainment equipment.

The NFC Forum, founded by Nokia, Philips Semiconductors (now known as NXP) and Sony to promote the adoption of near-field communications technology, is now working to standardize NFC protocols. At the same time, a number of wireless providers and handset manufacturers have been deploying technology trials in the United States and Europe (see U.S. Cellular Phone Provider Tests NFC, MasterCard and 7-Eleven Launch NFC Trial and French NFC Payment Trial Kicks Off).

This isn't the first time Visa has tested NFC-enabled mobile phones. The credit-card association conducted a six-month trial in Atlanta's Philips Arena last year (see NFC Scores High at Atlanta Arena), but this project is its first involving a large number of retailers.

The initial phase of the pilot was completed this spring, and involved issuing Nokia 6131 handsets to roughly 15 Wells Fargo employees. The participants used the phone's RFID module to make purchases at simulated merchant locations at a Wells Fargo test site, while also testing the handset's mobile banking application, which they could use to perform such functions as checking their account balances. The banking application does not use RFID, however; rather, it utilizes the cellular phone network to carry out banking transactions.

Michele Janes, Visa's director of product innovation, says the company deliberately sought out Wells Fargo employees who were very savvy with personal electronics, along with others who seldom use technological devices. "Everybody found that it was easy to use," she says.

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