Smartphones loaded with electronic versions of travel cards, bank cards and telephone prepayment credits were on show yesterday at the Thales test laboratory in central Auckland yesterday.

Auckland Transport, Telecom NZ and Westpac Bank were on hand to demonstrate how New Zealanders will soon be able to pay for ferry and bus rides by waving a suitably equipped phone in front of a terminal. The equipment has already been installed at Auckland ferry wharves and key railway stations, Field trials are now underway.

Cautious approach

While Telecom NZ says the smartphone travel card could start operating early next year, the partners are taking a cautious approach to its wider roll-out.

That’s sensible because there are issues to fix first. Mobile wallets depend on near field communications (NFC) technology – that’s a tiny transmitter chip inside the phone. Only the latest phones have NFC, but there are different flavours of NFC and competing standards to link mobile phone software to the chips.

And just to make things difficult, Apple hasn’t built NFC into its iPhone 5 – although I understand there’s a workaround for that. There are also non-NFC alternatives some simply use the mobile data network while Snapper and 2degrees are pushing something called Touch2Pay. That’s going to find it harder to get traction in Auckland than a system linked to public transport.

One mobile wallet to rule them all

Telecom NZ is working with Vodafone and 2degrees as well as with New Zealand’s banks to develop mobile wallet technology.

Eventually we’ll use phones to pay for everything, but NFC is not just about payments. Speaking at the demonstration Telecom NZ’s Roxanne Salton said the technology will replace all the other cards we now carry, such as coffee loyalty cards and library cards.

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