Contactless payments mobiles at Singapore

Singaporean operator Starhub Mobile will allow some subscribers to use their cell phones to pay for bus and subway rides, and purchases at convenience stores…

Taking a cue from mobile operators in Japan, Singaporean operator Starhub Mobile is dipping its toes into the waters of contactless payment, with plans to allow some subscribers to use their cell phones to pay for bus rides, subway trips, and purchases at convenience stores.

Starhub, one of three mobile operators in Singapore, will offer the payment service in conjunction with EZ-Link, a government-owned company that operates a contactless payment service based on cards with near-field communication (NFC) technology. EZ-Link cards can be used to pay for public transport in Singapore as well as purchases in some stores by waving them over a reader.

Mobile phones with embedded NFC chips can be used in the same way as EZ-Link cards. Users just wave them over a reader to make payment or pass a subway turnstile.

Starhub and EZ-Link plan to announce the start of a public trial using NFC-equipped phones on Wednesday, allowing up to 1,000 subscribers to try the service.

Although Starhub and EZ-Link billed the trial as “one of the largest NFC trials of its kind in the world,” the use of phones equipped with NFC chips isn’t new. Phones equipped with NFC chips are widely used in Japan, accounting for around 50 percent of all new handsets sold there.

Starhub also plans to allow users to download information to their handsets using NFC, but has revealed few details of its plans. In one scenario outlined by the company, users could download an Internet link to their phones from a poster or advertisement equipped with an NFC reader, giving users access to shopping information or transportation timetables.

And there are other possibilities as well.

Each NFC-equipped phone requires a Java applet to support payment using a system like EZ-Link. That means its theoretically possible for EZ-Link to make the required applet available for Japanese tourists to use while visiting Singapore. It’s also possible to make similar applets available for Singaporean tourists to use when travelling in Japan.

Starhub and EZ-Link have not announced plans to make the required Java applet available for download.

Starhub and EZ-Link aren’t the only companies testing mobile phones with NFC technology in Singapore. A similar initiative was announced in September by Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) and Network for Electronic Transfers (Singapore), or NETS, which operates a card-based payment system set up by local banks.

By Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service

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