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China Mobile goes big on proximity payments

WuMart first to sign up for electro-wallet SIM

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China Mobile has launched a proximity payment service based on RF SIM technology, and with China Telecom announcing trials the standard is probably unstoppable.

RF SIMs are now available to Chinese customers prepared to shell out ¥150 (around £15) for one, according to Alibaba.com.

The SIM drops into any existing handset, and provides an electronic purse capable of holding cash and/or loyalty points, along with wireless connectivity (at 2.4GHz) for interaction with stores and banks, including more than 300 branches of supermarket chain WuMart.

This deployment follows China Mobile's announcement that it had ordered three million of the SIMs, with a view to wide scale deployment.

China Telecom, meanwhile, will be trialling the technology with 1000 users in Shanghai according to Near Field Communications world - equipping 200 tills with the necessary kit to accept RF SIM payments and allowing punters to spend up to ¥1000 (£94) per transaction.

An RF SIM can interact with the user through text-based menus as specified by the SIM Toolkit standard, though a smartphone application could provide a better interface if desired.

But all is not lost for competing-technology Near Field Communications (NFC) as those two companies only account for a mere 550 million subscribers (fewer than ten per cent of those being with China Telecom). China Unicom is, apparently, still planning to use NFC when it gets round to deploying a service for its 125 million subscribers.

The NFC Forum has been busy signing cooperative-marketing deals with the GSMA and the Smart Card Alliance, not to mention EMVCo (owners of the secure payment card standards).

NFC's advantage is that it works when the phone battery is dead, and it's compatible with existing ticketing systems such as London's Oyster card. But the price it pays is cooperation from handset manufacturers who have to built in the technology, and without a decent push from operators no one except Nokia has shown any great interest - and Nokia's only interested 'cos it holds some patents in the area.

Working when the phone's dead is nice, but sharing a technology with hundreds of millions of Chinese is even nicer. Operators will like not having to ask manufacturers for favours, and most of us keep our phones charged anyway these days, so it probably won't be long before we see RF SIMs popping up in the west too. ®

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