At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Orange announced it will introduce its first NFC-enabled smartphone in the second quarter of this year to select European markets, with others soon to follow. The phone is a mid-tier Samsung Wave 578, which runs the Samsung bada operating system. As it turns out, it won't be the only new smartphone with NFC to hit European markets - Samsung's Galaxy S II, also announced this week, will include NFC technology, too.
NFC, or Near Field Communication, is a short-range wireless technology that allows for the exchange of data between two devices in close proximity. It will serve as the basis of mobile payment systems, ticketing and transportation services, says Orange.
New NFC Phones for Europe: Samsung Wave 578, Galaxy S II
According to NFCTimes, a site dedicated to covering NFC-related news, the bada-based Samsung Wave 578 has a touchscreen, Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 3.0, in addition to its NFC capabilities. It will arrive in France, Spain and Poland by the second quarter of 2011. Later, it will roll out to additional Orange branch operators throughout Europe, but not the U.K.
The phone supports NFC through the use of special NFC-enabled SIM cards Orange will issue, NFCTimes reports. And it will soon be followed by other NFC-enabled handsets from LG and Nokia, among others.
Samsung had also announced at its Barcelona press conference this week that some models of its Samsung Galaxy S II would be available with NFC technology. On Orange's network, these will come to France first. They will also come to the U.K. via Orange U.K. and T-Mobile U.K.
Orange: Over Half of All New Smartphones Will Have NFC
"Orange expects that by the end of 2011 over half of all new smartphone models to be added to its range for Europe will be optimised for mobile contactless services," the operator said.
However, it's important to note that some of these phones are launching prior to the services' existence. Instead, says NFCTimes, the strategy is to put the phones and SIM cards into subscribers' pockets to encourage service providers to roll out NFC services.
NFC-Based Mobile Payments Service Launches in U.K. This Summer
This summer, Orange and T-Mobile U.K. arms and their partner Barclaycard will roll out NFC payment services in the United Kingdom. With this initiative, consumers will be able to make payments using a new MasterCard PayPass prepaid account stored on their mobile phone.
Explains Orange (via NearFieldCommunicationsWorld.com):
"When you get your new handset, you need to activate it and link it to your existing Barclaycard, Barclays debit or Orange Credit Card. Using your handset, you then simply download (or transfer) funds from your card, to your phone... Loading your account could not be easier and it can also be done online via MyBarclaycard. The mobile phone can then be used to make payments of £15 or less wherever contactless payments are accepted, by simply tapping the phone itself against a contactless reader."
2011 Shaping Up as Year of NFC
Why is this news important? Because it's signaling the start of mobile payments initiatives in major markets, supported by both operators and banks. This year we will see more and more programs like this launching - for example, in the U.S., Bank of America will roll out its own NFC-enabled mobile payments system sometime this year, too.
U.S. operators have also teamed up on their own mobile payments service called Isis and Google is reportedly developing its own, too. This a major area of development to watch in mobile this year, and will have a broad impact on the way we go about our daily lives. Stay tuned.