x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Nokia expresses confidence in 'tap to pay' for cash-free future

Nokia is in talks with "all" Middle East telecoms companies over mobile payments, as part of a future where cash is no longer king.

Nokia is "confident" that customers in the UAE will use its handsets to pay for goods from next year, as part of a future in which cash is no longer used.

The Finnish handset manufacturer says it is in talks with all regional telecommunications operators about a system that allows a mobile user to pay for goods by simply tapping a phone against a sensor.

Such transactions use "near field communication" (NFC) technology, which is available on some high-end mobile phones.

Adam Birchall, the head of NFC partnerships and development for Nokia in the Middle East and Africa, said he was "confident" that UAE consumers would be able to pay for goods using NFC next year. The rollout "depends on partners", he added. Mr Birchall said he envisaged the day when all small and medium transactions are made by mobile phone.

"That's the ultimate goal. We see NFC as a daily activity - whether that be tap to pay [or] tap to download," he said. "You go around and you're tapping everywhere. That's our utopia."

Nokia is in talks over cashless payments with mobile-phone operators across the Middle East and Africa, Mr Birchall said.

"We are talking to all operators. It just depends on where they are in their own NFC thoughts and plans. Some are more advanced than others," he said. "Depending on the region, we talk directly to banks."

In October, Etisalat said it planned to introduce a mobile payment system using NFC to authorise transactions.

The telecoms operator said it would allow UAE customers to use high-end smartphones as a replacement for cash in some shops.

Etisalat said that about 600 outlets in the UAE would initially be able to accept mobile payments.

The technology will first be available on the BlackBerry 9900, followed by other handsets, Etisalat added.

Mr Birchall said Nokia was "in discussions" with Etisalat about NFC.

"Etisalat are still ironing out the fine details of what that campaign will be," he said. "Our key driver is to plug into that launch when available." There has been intense interest in mobile payments from Nokia's rival Google, which is behind the Android mobile phone operating system.

In September, Visa and Google signed a licensing deal that the credit card company said would "boost mobile payment adoption".

The deal resulted in Visa's NFC-enabled payWave technology being licensed for the Google Wallet mobile application, which allows consumers to use their smartphones to pay for goods.

Mr Birchall said that Nokia was trying to create awareness of NFC technology in the UAE.

The handset maker last month launched a promotional campaign in VOX Cinemas, whereby owners of its N9 handset can tap the phone against a poster to receive free cinema tickets and refreshments.

Mr Birchall said that Nokia was launching a similar campaign at VOX Cinemas at Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, and was considering expanding the promotion next year.

"What we're trying to do is make it a bit more consumer-friendly," Mr Birchall said of NFC. "The idea is to create awareness … and use it as a springboard."

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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