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Barclaycard and Orange plot NFC Christmas

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Barclaycard has let slip plans to deploy NFC-enabled mobile phones, along with Orange, before the end of 2010.

The details were spotted by NFC World, which reported on a presentation given by Barclaycard's Head of Innovation Marketing, Sarah Mansfield, during which she stated that by the end of 2010 Orange customers will be able to buy an NFC-enabled handset, and use an augmented-reality application to locate stores that accept NFC payments.

NFC, or Near Field Communications, is used for payment systems that rely on the user waving the card near to a reader. Transactions below fifteen quid are approved without a PIN (though a PIN is occasionally requested at random), and the system is already embedded in millions of plastic cards from Barclaycard.

Putting the same functionality into a mobile phone should add features, such as transaction checking and pre-paid topping up, but the lack of an obvious revenue stream and customer indifference have prevented that happening.

According to the presentation the new service will come with an augmented-reality application showing the nearest retail outlet offering NFC, or the nearest cashpoint for those who insist on scratch-window cash. That app will run on an iPhone, or handsets using Google's Android platform, which is interesting given that neither of those platforms support NFC - at least not yet.

An Android handset with NFC isn't particularly difficult to imagine: Orange could just ask someone to make such a thing, but getting the technology onto an iPhone is more difficult. There have been rumours that Cupertino is looking in that direction, but it seems unlikely that Barclaycard would let slip any inside information it has on the matter.

Orange and Barclaycard did launch a co-branded credit card in January, so perhaps Android and iPhone users will be able to use the augmented reality app to find places that will accept their plastic cards, while those equipped with NFC-enabled handsets must rely on the traditional window stickers.

NFC is beset by chicken-and-egg problems with operators not requesting handsets and manufacturers (except Nokia) not interested in making them. If Orange did push the technology into one of its signature handsets then it could differentiate the product significantly, which could go well if all that pent-up demand for proximity payments on a mobile phone really exists. ®

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