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Google Planning On NFC Payment System

David Gilbert


Google Planning On NFC Payment System

Near Field Communication (NFC) has been touted as the big thing for 2011 with all smartphones set to include the technology. However despite a big start with the Nexus S, the technology has stumbled somewhat with little industry-wide adoption but reports today suggest Google are ready to go ahead with its own trials for the payment system.

Bloomberg today quotes two sources familiar with the project who say that Google is getting ready to purchase thousands of special NFC payment terminals from VeriFone Systems. It is then planning on rolling out these pay points which will accept payment from NFC-enabled phones. The trials will take place in San Francisco and New York where Google will see how many people will be willing to use the technology on a daily basis.

While we have had NFC technology for some time, for example in London Underground’s Oyster Cards, it was only at the end of last year that we saw the first smartphone with NFC technology in the shape of Google’s own Nexus S. Since then however there has been few new phones with the technology, with the Samsung Galaxy S II one of the exceptions. Yesterday we reported that Apple would not be putting an NFC chip in the iPhone 5 as a result of a lack of industry wide standard which could further set the adoption of the technology back.

Google is obviously fully behind NFC as a technology having included support for it in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) recently. However should the rest of the industry fail to jump on board and create a common standard, then it could be doomed to fail.

Source: Bloomberg via Engadget


March 15, 2011, 5:08 pm

Oh let me put on my excited face. Yet another way for Google to track us, in the name of providing more relevant advertising.

Fortunately like many other countries have already shown there's really little public interest in NFC beyond public transport,
so IMHO this is another project that's going the way of Google's Buzz and their other recent developments.

Even if they manage the incredible feat of getting something like TfL on board, people will still need to prepay credit into the phone because of there's no way of doing on-the-go authorisation in under the 500ms allowed by the gates, esp. when 3G coverage generally sucks around ticket gates anyway.

Can't really see the big advantage. Can someone please tell me how this will make our lives that much easier?


March 15, 2011, 5:37 pm

Since when did Apple care about industry wide adoption before putting something in their devices? The latest example being the thunderbolt port.

I am not sure if Google intends NFC to be for tickets or other gate-related purchases. I can see how it might be a clever way to pay in the supermarkets or other shops without having to take out the plastic or cash. The easier it is for people to spend money, the more money people spend. So at least some retailers should be interested.


March 15, 2011, 7:20 pm

I noticed a NFC terminal at Waitrose yesterday - first one that I've noticed (apart from TFL).


March 15, 2011, 8:43 pm

@Gk.pm Surely if TFL get on board then the gates would merely interrogate the phone for a unique ID which is corroborated with a central database, thereby operating in the same way as a regular Oyster card. The phone is just a passive data storage device in that system. Google wouldn't necessarily need to be involved in any way, aside from providing the software framework on the phone to make it possible.

However, this NFC payment system uses Google Checkout to process your transactions. That makes sense since you can assign any credit card to your Google Checkout account, which makes it a very flexible system. That said, you made a pretty good point; I'm not sure I want to permit Google to access details of my small transactions on top of the email, documents and search queries they already have access to. Google make their money by exploiting the huge wealth of data they have at their fingertips, and I'm sure this would become yet another source of data for them.

Personally, I like the concept of ridding my pockets of the antiquated metallic discs and cotton paper that masquerade as currency. NFC fits the bill, I'm just not sure this is the best way to go about it and I can't see it taking off in this form.


March 16, 2011, 1:10 am


You mean "yet another way for Google to provide cutting edge technological wizardry that makes all our lives easier for absolutely no cash, as in absolutely free, in return for targeted advertising"? What's that? Oh, you did? Oh, ok then. Great!


Anyway, I am actually quite excited at the prospect of NFC payments. The big advantage is in improved security over credit cards and speed of transaction. You will probably challenge me on the security point but I've practised the arguments, so I'll be ready for you.

As to industry wide adoption, well, if a massive proportion, even if not the absolute majority, of the world's phones are running Android in the future, then the industry will be forced to adopt, otherwise Goog will just ignore the industry and implement it anyway. Reminds me of Apple, flash vs html etc, and many other examples too.

I noticed the first NFC payment device a couple of days ago too. Can't remember where it was though. Tesco, I think.


March 16, 2011, 3:14 am

Public transport systems such as Oyster don't rely on the ID number for their main functionality. It's a very small part of it all, mostly used for fraud checking (cards reported lost etc) and making it match up with what you see online (often only the next day).

To avoid the need of keeping constant and reliable connections from gates to central servers, a huge cost on busses for example - and for operational speed - the credit, passes etc are all stored in the cards themselves and deducted/checked at the gates.

In countries like Japan which have had mobile NFC for oh 7 years now, there's an app on the phone which writes to the internal tag and "recharges" it with money or whatever from your account ahead of use.

In Google's case their hardware supports two different authentication strategies, one via the SIM card (SWP) which is controlled by the mobile companies and another via the system software stack (libnxp or the new NFC framework in Android 2.3.3). Discussing them here is far too hard, maybe TrustedReviews would like to do an article on it?

In any case it's all far from being passive...


March 16, 2011, 4:48 am

I agree with the security, while the initial systems like Mifare were a spectacular failure the new ones like DESFire are, at least from what's known, very good. Certainly more secure than having loose change and paper money, although to compare with normal cards we'd need to do look at specific NFC systems.

Speed, sure for low value transactions, like paying for coffee. I've also used it myself for vending machines (in another country) and agree it's useful not having to keep change.

However, having said that, Pret has had Paywave NFC terminals since the cards appeared, have I ever seen anyone use them? No. The other day I risked looking like a total geek and asked if I could use it, but no one in the shop even knew what to do. I'm not trying that again.

So I think getting systems out there and working will demand far more local involvement than Google or Apple can deliver. It also looks like a lot of work for such little rewards (small commissions on small transactions).

Also btw I think you meant "running Android with an NFC tag" in the last paragraph. In Android's world it's ultimately the manufacturer's decision whether to include NFC or not and, if they're not added into the commission structure, somehow I doubt many will.


March 16, 2011, 6:37 pm

I'm sure that McDonald's introducing NFC will really help to market the tech to the average consumer and if the supermarkets jump on board it could really take off.

If Apple did manage to squeeze NFC into the iPhone 5 and market it as iPay/iMoney I've no doubt it would explode. They just have a way of demonstrating tech and it's benefits which no one else seems to be able to do.

That and big companies only seem to take an interest in these things once/when Apple is involved, i.e. apps, The Daily,


March 17, 2011, 6:05 pm

@Gk.pm. It's 'passive' insofar as the cards are just slaves to the terminals that interrogate them and then write back any data that needs to be stored. Sure, you could have an app on your NFC phone that interacts with the data stored on it to achieve things like topping up the balance, but you don't *have* to. I was just trying to point out that if you want to keep it simple, just allow the phone to replicate the functionality of a regular Oyster card. The phone doesn't have to interact with the data stored on it and no constant 3G connection is required.

Also, I realise the balance is stored on the card (among many other tidbits of data) so a constant server connection isn't required (useful on buses, like you say). However, there will be many locations where a constant connection is maintained. For example, when you top up your account from the website the card then has to be updated with that top up. You'd have to swipe it against a connected terminal to achieve that.

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