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Telefonica creates NFC District in Madrid

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Telefonica is issuing thousands of its own staff with NFC handsets, creating an NFC District around the company's Madrid headquarters, and showing a distinctly pro-bank policy.

The operator intends to eventually put 12,500 NFC phones into the pockets of employees at its "District C" campus, though it will start with "several thousand". The campus will also get the infrastructure necessary to accept NFC phones as building-access keys and tokens for the company canteens as well as the usual credit and debit cards. Bank cards will be backed by three contributing banks, and payments processed using Visa's PayWave platform.

Samsung is providing the handsets, which will use the Single Wire Protocol to communicate with SIMs provided by Oberthur. The banks involved are Bankinter , BBVA and La Caixa ... and Autogrill gets name-checked too, as the company running the company canteens.

Local businesses will be encouraged to take part, creating a growing island of Near Field Communication use which Telefonica hopes will form a launch platform and address the chicken-and-egg problem associated with NFC deployments. Telefonica, and O2, have a history of pushing their own innovations onto their employees, often to the benefit of all concerned though it can make one feel like a lab rat*.

But it is the banks' involvement which is most interesting, especially given the way that O2 – Telefonica's UK operation – is going it alone with O2 Money. That doesn't make any difference to the technology: NFC, Visa PayWave and Oberthur SIMs will support any suitable banking solution, so if O2 Money doesn't take off then that's not a big deal. Telefonica obviously feels there's more opportunity for pre-paid banking in the UK, and on-phone canteen tokens in Spain, and as long as the operator is in control, it's not important which happens where. ®

* Your correspondent spent several years at O2 in the UK, and always felt the company's willingness to embrace mobile technology to be its greatest strength – eating its own dog food daily.

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