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McDonalds samples NFC swipe-tech in UK

Calories with a wave, but Starbucks goes for virtual barcodes

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McDonalds will be accepting proximity payment cards in 1,200 UK branches from this summer, though Starbucks has almost 7,000 stores lined up to accept barcodes in the USA.

Starbucks' national roll-out will see Americans paying for coffee with a wave of their phone using an old technology. Meanwhile, McDonalds UK is embracing the very latest tech by installing tills that will accept today's proximity-enabled credit cards and tomorrow's NFC-enabled mobile phones.

The burger vendor announced back in August that IBM would be providing the infrastructure to link the 1,200 restaurants with the banks and allow them to accept proximity cards such as those already being issued by Visa and Mastercard.

Those sites will start accepting pay-by-wave this summer. Up to £15 can be spent with a wave of the card, and no mucking about with PIN numbers or slotting the card in the right way up.

Proximity payment systems do ask for PIN numbers every now and then, at a random rate on which the card issuers will decide once the frequency of fraud is better known. But thieves aren't generally interested in nicking off with a McFlurry while leaving a paper trail showing where they were, so the security is in proportion to the risk.

NFC-enabled handsets such as Google's Nexus S will, eventually, be able to download credit card applications and be compatible with the kit that McDonalds is deploying - the Near Field Communications standard demands backwards compatibility with existing payment systems - but that's still still a year or so off at least.

Which is why fellow international sustenance behemoth Starbucks has tired of waiting, and pushed it into an on-screen barcode system for its 6,800 stores. Starbucks Card Mobile pops up an authorising 2D bar code onto the screen of an iPhone or BlackBerry (Android users aren't cool enough for Starbucks), and can be used in place of a physical Starbucks card.

On screen barcodes are being used in the UK, successfully replacing train and bus tickets among other things, though it seems the application of barcodes to buying coffee will remain an American-only pursuit as Starbucks UK shows no sign of adopting the technology.

NFC Times reckons that even Starbucks US will return to the fold once the hardware catches up. On-screen barcodes aren't as secure as proximity payment systems, lacking the cryptographically-secured element; but they can do most of what's promised by proximity payment systems such as NFC, and they can do it today, as Starbucks is keen to show. ®

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