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Barclaycard slaps pay-by-bonk plasters on mobes

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Barclaycard has launched a proximity-payment token embedded in a sticker, ideally sized for affixing to the back of a mobile phone, as a stop gap until the handsets catch up.

The Barclaycard PayTag is a sticker about a third of the size of a credit card, but does not have the chip contacts or magnetic stripe. It is linked to an existing Barclaycard account and can only be used for pay-by-bonk transactions, but Barclaycard will back the launch with a huge publicity drive in the hope of convincing more people to pay that way.

We're told that there are already 100,000 terminals in the UK which will accept pay-by-bonk, which is already embedded into the majority of traditional cards in circulation. Those figures are easy to believe; take a careful look next time you see a chip-and-pin machine and you'll likely see the word "contactless" printed on the face – even if the staff don't know what that implies.

The problem is that no one is using them. Barclaycard reckons that will change this year, with London buses accepting bonks later in 2012, and the Tube following within 12 months, not to mention that supermarket giant Tesco is already on board and Asda is today announcing its own pilot, so the terminals will certainly be in place.

Barclaycard is already available as an application on the Orange QuickTap service, which runs on a handful of smartphones (well beyond the two quoted by Barclaycard when announcing the sticker), but there still aren't enough NFC phones – which is what's prompted the decision to go for a sticker solution.

It's a long way from being the first such solution: Dexit launched a sticker system in Canada almost a decade ago, and even got Telus Mobility (a local operator) to promote it as a handset enabler. More recently, Bling Nation tried the same thing in San Francisco, but both those simply used an RFID tag as an identifying token, which compromised security, and more importantly they didn't have the backing of a brand as big as Barclaycard.

Stickers can work: US bank Citi offers a very similar sticker-based implementation of its credit cards, using MasterCard's PayPass technology. Citi also reckons the back of a mobile phone is the ideal place to put one of its stickers, though the technology should work anywhere.

Barclaycard has already sent out invitations to key card-holders, and reckons it will have the first stickers in use over the next month or so. Bonking is currently limited to £15 a pop, but that will rise to £20 in June, and users will be asked for a PIN every now and then just to make sure.

In presenting the technology, Barclaycard pointed out that a phone will probably be missed quicker than a wallet, and that a thief will probably have a harder time committing any serious fraud with the sticker than they would with a traditional card. We've written about the limited range of induction-powered cards many times before, but many people will probably still worry about long-range listening. Of course there are legitimate concerns should the thief get close enough.

But at least those people uncomfortable with the tech can simply refrain from asking for a sticker, which is a lot easier than trying to get a credit card without the technology built in these days.

The launch of Barclays PayTag is not a big deal, providing a wireless-payment capability to customers who already have that capability in their back pockets; what really matters is how effectively Barclaycard can educate customers to use that capability, and how much money it's prepared to spend doing that. ®

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