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Vodafone: Do you take Visa?

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MWC 2012 Vodafone and Visa have joined forces to push an international payment brand, using NFC for pay-by-bonk functionality and a Visa prepaid card to carry the credit.

Pay by bonk – aka NFC transactions authorised with a tap of the phone – won't be available across all the 30 countries where Vodafone operates and where the wallet will, eventually, launch. Bonking will be limited to "developed countries ... with a mature infrastructure for electronic payments", but an electronic wallet of some sort will be pushed out to Vodafone's 398 million customers with – and this is critical – a single overriding brand identity.

The rollout will start with the UK, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands, with all those countries getting NFC wallets. Visa will run a Vodafone-branded pre-paid card, so users can load credit onto their phones to be used anywhere Visa PayWave is accepted, but the platform will be open to other cards as well as loyalty schemes and anyone else Vodafone can sell the concept to.

Vodafone already has a working payment system running in Africa, M-Pesa, which is telephony-based and will no doubt end up rolled into this new brand, though Vodafone hasn't confirmed that to us yet. We're also obliged to assume that the Vodafone service will remain compatible with the UK operator consortium which has become known as "project Oscar". That consortium will provide a central clearing house where advertisers can rent space on operator SIMs without having to deal with the individual operators (except Three, which wasn't invited to join the board of Project Oscar), and there's no reason why Vodafone's deal with Visa would preclude that as NFC SIMs all have the capability to manage multiple (isolated) applications.

The use of the SIM as a secure element is in contrast to the embedded element used by Google Wallet, and the memory-card approach being promoted by US banks, but the SIM has always been the sensible place to put secure data. The only chance the alternatives have is if the network operators let another opportunity slip though their fingers - something Vodafone, at least, appears not to have done. ®

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