Google Wallet or Visa's digital wallet. With an NFC phone, you can pay for purchases at any contactless payments-enabled point-of-sale location with just a tap or wave of the phone. But not all phones support NFC, which is currently limited to Google's Nexus S, some variants of Samsung's Galaxy S II, Nokia's Astound and a few others.NFC, short for near field communications, is a short-range wireless technology that's forming the backbone of new mobile payments and mobile wallet services like
A new service called Zoosh thinks it has a workaround for that problem: use ultrasound instead.
Payments over Ultrasound?
Zoosh's software emits high-frequency sounds, inaudible to humans, to deliver data over "fast, secure and reliable" connections, the company claims. This technology is similar to what's used by mobile shopping startup Shopkick, which uses ultrasound beacons installed in stores to know when shoppers inside are using the company's smartphone app.
Like Shopkick, Zoosh's software also uses a device's microphone and speakers to work, but it can function on feature phones, too, in addition to smartphones like the iPhone or Android devices.
Zoosh aims to power phone-to-phone payments plus phone-to-POS payments, loyalty systems and digital couponing. However, on the POS side, the challenge will be merchant adoption - Zoosh requires the use of specialized, albeit low-cost, equipment which attaches to a retailer's current POS system.
In product demonstrations, available here, Zoosh works as advertised.
Industry Partners Speak Highly of Zoosh
Narette, the startup behind Zoosh, already has an industry partner in Sparkbase, makers of a digital wallet service called Paycloud. More importantly, Zoosh seems to have the respect of big names in the mobile industry, including Laura Chambers, PayPal Mobile's GM, who says that "PayPal is very excited about" Zoosh and it has "the potential to enable complete consumer-merchant shopping experiences."
Texas Instruments' Matt Muse says his company is "excited" to have Zoosh running on TI's C5000 DSP's and Fay Arjomandi, head of Vodafone's U.S. R&D center says Zoosh is "one of the most impressive and clever technologies I've seen in a long time."
Based in Sunnyvale, California, Naratte was founded in 2009 and has 12 employees, including CEO Brett Paulson, formerly of Texas Instruments, Chad Seguin, Naratte's VP of Engineering who previously worked at RIM, Apple, Novatel Wireless and General Dynamics, Chief Development Officer Byron Alsberg, also formerly of TI, and Gregory Maertens, VP of Software Engineering, with experience from LSI Logic, Mozaik Multimedia, and C-Cube Microsystems.
The company holds 8 patents on the technology and has plans for future applications that work over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Naratte also recently received $5 million in funding from an unnamed investor.
Where Zoosh Fits In
Zoosh wants to be a workaround for enabling mobile transactions on phones that don't have NFC technology built in. And there's a multi-year window there where the majority of phones will be without NFC. But the number of handsets supporting NFC is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years, according to forecasts. Berg Insight, for example, recently predicted a jump from less than 2 million NFC phones in 2010 to 400 million by 2015. That would mean nearly a quarter of all handsets will come with NFC. Another analyst firm, IHS, predicts even more - 544.7 million NFC phones by 2015, or just over 30% of all handsets.
Even still, one-quarter or more of all phones is not a majority, leaving room for alternative technologies like Zoosh to have time to incubate. But developing the technology, engineering feat it may be, could end up being the easy part for Naratte- real-world and merchant adoption could be the biggest hurdle of all.