Lazy and impatient? Telstra has the answer

Near field communications -- or NFC -- may sound like another dull mobile acronym. However, the reality is a smooth system that will delight the lazy and impatient.

Near field communications -- or NFC -- may sound like another dull mobile acronym. However, the reality is a smooth system that will delight the lazy and impatient.

Being both, I know.

This month saw the announcement of a trial of NFC, with Telstra, NAB and Visa all taking part.

For those that haven't experienced the technology, it's simply a means of contactless payment using a mobile handset. By tapping your phone -- or for that matter your credit card -- against a reader, you transfer a small amount of money electronically to the shopkeeper and walk off with your shopping.

Picking up your newspaper? Put your mobile on the reader and you're done -- no need to worry about having the right cash to hand, queuing and so on. No need to even make polite conversation with the shop girl, should you be so minded, just wave your phone and off you go.

The phone and the reader swap information instantaneously on how much money you have available (post pay or pre pay, dependent on your fancy) and how much is being deducted for payment.

Typically, NFC shopping is restricted to small amounts -- a newspaper, a bottle of juice, a train ticket -- with users obliged to enter a PIN if they want to splash out. That way, should you leave your mobile in the back of a taxi, you're only losing AU$30 or so, tops.

Outside of Asia, where 20 million phones and millions more cards come equipped with the technology, NFC has been curiously slow to take off. Granted, it has made some headway in the US, where shoppers can use cards to wirelessly pay for McDonalds burgers among other things.

In the UK, despite the best efforts of Nokia et al, NFC remains restricted to the Oyster -- a plastic card that commuters top up with credit and use to pay for journeys on the London Underground.

NFC is a natural fit for the mobile phone -- like a wallet and a set of keys, few people leave the house without one -- but the system is still struggling.

Why? Most analysts put it down to the inability of all the parties involved, including mobile phone companies, financial institutions and retailers, to agree on how to split the revenue and expenses associated with rolling out a system on a large scale.

Should retailers, who benefit from shorter queues, pay for the equipment to be installed? Should banks or card providers, who snare a greater share of transactions, pay for compatible handsets to be distributed to the phone-wielding masses?

It's obviously an argument that has been resolved in places like Hong Kong and Japan, but still causes Europeans no end of 'I'm taking my ball and I'm going home' style squabbling.

I have my fingers crossed Australia takes the European example and not that of the Old World. However, Telstra is not known for its magnanimous and easy-going nature in such matters -- perhaps I have my hopes up too high?

As additions to mobile handsets go, NFC is not SMS. It's not essential; it's just nice to have.

However, NFC is like getting a mobile with a camera in it, once you've got one, you feel short changed if you are expected to do without. It's handy. Every now and again, you'll think 'I'm glad my phone can do that' and, like getting paparazzi with your cameraphone, you can do it without bumping up your mobile operator's profits.

So come on Telstra and friends, let's NFC what you can do.