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London Olympics get pay-by-wave

Visa and Samsung are in, but it takes three to tango

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Samsung will be handing out Olympic phones to athletes at the 2012 Olympics and Visa will be taking NFC payments from them, but the pair will still need an operator to make it work.

The model of phone hasn't been announced, but it will be handed out free to athletes attending the Olympic and Paralympics games and on sale to everyone else.

Samsung has Android and Bada handsets with NFC capability built in, and thanks to its sponsorship Visa has the monopoly on payments made at the Olympics. However, to make NFC work by next year the pair will need to add a network operator to the mix.

Visa is quite explicit that a "Visa-enabled SIM card" will be used, which rules out any alternative such as a secure element embedded in the handset (under the control of the manufacturer) or one on a removable SD card (under the control of a bank). But as none of the UK's operators have seen fit to sponsor the London Olympics, they don't get a name check.

Visa tells us it is talking to the operators, presumably hoping they'll be keen to get in on the deal, even if they don't get to mention it publicly. But Everything Everywhere has its own NFC plans with Barclaycard, while O2 has its O2 Money project which is progressing well, and if one discounts Three (who've not yet shown any great interest in mobile payments) that leaves Vodafone as the ideal - possibly the only - partner.

Visa's perfect world is one in which every SIM has an embedded secure element, and operators deploy Visa PayWave as a downloaded application - that may well be the future, but not by 2012.

The SIM is the preferred location for the secure element, particularly amongst network operators and SIM manufacturers. The network operator will have to shell out for the special SIMs, though, and for the servers needed to provision them. An operator might not be prepared to do that without having its logo on the outside of the phone.

Samsung will almost certainly use this as an opportunity to get more Bada handsets on screen, specifically the NFC-capable Wave II, promoting their own (closed) platform rather than Google's (more open) Android.

It certainly means the Olympics will be a test bed for paying with a wave of the phone. This is no bad thing; as the technology is encroaching anyway it might as well be tested on a load of visiting tourists and early adopters. Once we find out which network those punters will be using we'll let you know. ®

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