Telstra has worked with near-field communication (NFC) technology specialist Tapit to enable the telecommunications company's prepaid customers to buy call credits at selected phone booths and retail outlets through their NFC-enabled smartphones.
Advertising firm JCDecaux is also involved in the project, which went live earlier this week. The trio previously collaborated on an NFC campaign with streaming-music service MOG in July. According to Tapit, this is the biggest NFC deal in Australia so far, but it has not disclosed its exact value.
Around 20 phone booths and a handful of Telstra retail shops in Sydney and Melbourne have been NFC enabled. These have been marked with Tapit signage to let prepaid customers know where they can trial the NFC technology.
To recharge their prepaid accounts, users tap their NFC phones on a Tapit symbol attached to a point of sale or phone booth. Customers can also get additional entertainment content through this method.
The process is automated, so users don't have to click through websites to get credit and content. According to Tapit, offering this kind of convenience will increase sales and customer loyalty.
In October, Telstra and Tapit will ramp up their NFC project at Macquarie Shopping Centre and Warringah Mall in Sydney. Food court tables and shop windows will be NFC enabled, as well.
"We're in a trial phase right now, and will assess the outcome of that undertaking once complete," a Telstra spokesperson told ZDNet.
Telstra refused to comment on its future plans for NFC and the value of its deal with Tapit.
iPhones, which do not have NFC, still make up a big chunk of the market, but Tapit CEO Jamie Conyngham doesn't believe that this will hinder the uptake of the technology — a sentiment echoed by Datacom.
"NFC isn't dependent on the iPhone, and the other leading manufacturers all have it," Conyngham told ZDNet. "In the end, if consumers want NFC, then Apple will be forced to include it sooner or later."
Australian telecommunications companies toyed with NFC several years ago, but have yet to fully embrace the technology, with doubts over how to profit from it.
Telstra has been one of the more optimistic companies, with its chief technology officer Hugh Bradlow predicting that NFC will take off in the next few years, and will eventually supplant physical wallets.
"By using Tapit technology, Telstra makes it easier for consumers to interact with and use Telstra services on their mobile," Tapit's head of operations Andrew Davis said in a statement. "Telstra also gains invaluable data and learnings about consumer behaviour, for example the take-up rate of NFC versus QR, and which physical assets and media spend get the most mobile interactions.
"NFC now represents 25 percent of all physical mobile interactions."
NFC recently took a blow when security researchers demonstrated how some NFC-enabled Samsung handsets are potentially vulnerable to being remotely wiped through the technology.
Tapit NFC is available at Telstra stores at the Macquarie Centre, Chatswood, and in the CBD in Sydney. For Melbourne, they are at Chadstone, Doncaster, and Telstra's flagship store in the city.