AT&T: Bullish on NFC, mobile payment trials

Summary:AT&T's mobility chief Ralph de la Vega likes the early data on NFC mobile payment trials in Austin and Salt Lake City.

AT&T's mobility chief Ralph de la Vega said mobile payment trials using near-field communications (NFC) technology are underway in the U.S.

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The pilots were kicked off by the ISIS consortium, which is an effort to bolster mobile payments via telecom carriers AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. The ISIS challenge is that mobile payment systems from Google, Visa and PayPal are off and running already.

According to de la Vega, NFC trials have been launched in Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas. Speaking Wednesday at a UBS investor conference, de la Vega said:

We have seen all kinds of interest from merchants and other providers to get their equipment NFC-enabled. One thing that is really interesting that we are doing in Austin, Texas -- and I think if it works as good in Austin as it does everywhere around the country, I think it's going to be a big hit -- and that is we did a deal with Coke. And Coke has basically changed out their Coke machines in Austin so they can take an NFC payment. You just go in, kind of tap the machine with your phone, and you can buy a Coke. And as a promotional offer, when you buy 10, you get the 10th one free.

It is just a small way of highlighting how once you have the NFC capability and payments, all kinds of opportunities become available. So we are very bullish on the fact that mobile payments is a huge opportunity, that NFC is the right approach, and as more and more NFC-enabled devices come to market, that only can grow the business. And so we like what we see and we are still in the early stages of deployment, but I feel very good about ISIS and the opportunity for us to continue to grow ISIS.

de la Vega said ISIS had nothing new to announce, but liked the trial.

What you are seeing now is a lot of effort putting NFC into the device.

The next area is making sure that those devices come with a SIM that has got the secure elements enabled in it already, so that when the customer leaves the store or while they are in the store, they can have the wallet activated, and they can walk out not just with an activated phone, but an activated wallet. And so I think that will be huge.

And there are actually merchants today that are willing to contribute some funds into that wallet, so not only can you walk out with a great smartphone, with a digital wallet, but you will have some digital cash to go along with it. So there is a lot of interest from merchants of getting to be a part of that wallet.

In Salt Lake City, NFC trials revolve around mass transit. The Utah Transit Authority is using NFC for its Rapid Rail System.

Related: AT&T: We've sold 6.4M smartphones in Q4 already

Topics: E-Commerce, AT&T, Mobility, Networking

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Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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