The London 2012 Olympics are being used to trial mobile payments — with a version of the Samsung Galaxy S3 running Visa's mobile-payment application, Visa payWave, given to 850 people, including a number of athletes.
The trial participants can use the S3 to buy goods at thousands of retailers across London, including outlets at the Olympic Park, like the one shown here, where Visa is the only credit card accepted.
The payWave app is not available to consumers, but Visa says it expects the first commercial mobile payments services offering the app under their own brand to launch in the UK in the next 12 months.
Along with Visa and Samsung, Lloyds TSB is the bank involved with the Olympics trial.
To make a mobile payment, the user holds the S3 smartphone close to a contactless payment terminal. Purchases costing more than £20 require a passcode.
There are about 3,000 contactless point-of-sale devices and 350 contactless vending machines around the Olympic site.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the few smartphones that currently incorporates near-field communication, or NFC, capabilities.
Visa said in January that payWave is certified for use on NFC-enabled smartphones from Samsung, LG and RIM. Models include the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3, LG Optimus NET NFC, BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9790, and the BlackBerry Curve 9360 and 9380.
The market for contactless payments using credit cards is small, even though there are about 140,000 contactless terminals in the UK. And the usage of NFC smartphones to make purchases is low as there are only a handful of phones that actually offer the technology.
But mobile operators, banks and credit card firms know that — eventually — contactless and mobile payments will be a huge market, and all are keen to grab their share, which is why there are so many trials, all designed to kick-start consumer interest.
Mobile operator O2 recently unveiled its O2 wallet service with retailers including Debenhams, Comet and Sainsbury's signing up to accept payments.
Barclaycard has demonstrated PayTag, which is effectively a miniature credit card it hopes customers will stick on the back of their mobile phones to make contactless payments. Barclays also has its Pingit application, which allows users to make payments to anyone who owns a mobile phone in the UK.
Google Wallet is another option, although it's currently US-only.
This is the screen the user sees on opening the Visa payWave app. It shows the balance on the account and the previous transaction. To make payments of more than £20, you touch the large yellow bar marked 'Authorise a payment' and enter a passcode. This can be done while waiting to be served so that it's ready for the payment terminal.
But the user doesn't have to open the app to make a lower-value payment. It opens automatically when the phone is held over the point-of-sale reader.
The Visa payWave application also allows customers to check their transaction history on the Samsung S3 and view their account balance.