September 19, 2011
Google Inc. on Monday announced the commercial launch of its mobile wallet based on near-field communication technology (NFC). Along with the launch announcement, the online search giant also said it had reached agreements with Visa Inc., American Express Co., and Discover Financial Services to add their cards to the wallet, which has been limited to MasterCard Inc. since the product was unveiled in May.
With an over-the-air update, users of the Nexus S 4G smart phone on the Sprint Nextel network are now able to use the Google Wallet to make purchases at any of the 144,000 U.S. merchant locations that accept contactless payments. For the time being, the Google application can hold a MasterCard credit card from Citigroup Inc. as well as a Google prepaid card that can be loaded with funds from any other card. As an enticement to attract early users, Google said it will load $10 into the Google Prepaid Card of anyone who activates the wallet by the end of the year.
The much-anticipated official launch of the wallet follows a splashy announcement in May and tests Google conducted over the summer. Google is one of three major players that have committed to mobile payments based on NFC, a two-way, short-range communication protocol that lets users store payment and non-payment media on their phones in a secure chip. As with contactless cards, NFC lets consumers make payments by waving their phones near a point-of-sale reader.
NFC also allows phones to receive coupons and other promotional media from the readers as well as specially equipped posters situated in stores or public areas. While Google at the May announcement also introduced a mobile promotional program called Google Offers and a POS redemption system called SingleTap, Monday’s launch details did not mention those systems. A Google spokesperson says SingleTap is close to rollout, but won’t give a timetable. Google Offers, which was piloted this summer in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and New York, added earlier this month Austin, Texas, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Denver.
The addition of Visa, AmEx, and Discover to the wallet means Google can match Isis, an NFC initiative backed by the country’s largest mobile carriers, in terms of major payment networks represented for NFC payment. Isis, which started with Discover, earlier this summer announced it had reached agreements with the same networks. It also broadens the reach of Visa, which had announced its own wallet earlier this year, on mobile devices. “Visa’s strategy is to make mobile payments available through a broad range of wallets—including our own digital wallet currently in development,” said Jim McCarthy, Visa’s head of global product, in a blog post on Monday.
The Google spokesperson won’t say when Visa, Discover, and AmEx cards will be live in the wallet.
Besides the card networks, Citi, and Sprint, Google’s partners include First Data Corp., which is serving as trusted-service manager for the wallet, managing the secure download of card credentials to users’ phones.
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