NFC – a technology that solves no known problem

We are seriously considering having badges made that say ‘big companies cannot innovate – so don’t try.’ In fact the only thing that cannot innovate like a big company trying to innovate is a bunch of big companies trying to innovate together. Generally what happens is that instead of discussing how the new technology makes doing the shopping so much easier, the group ends up discussing standards and who’s turn it is to make the tea.

When the banner ad popped up which said ‘Watch the latest from the GSMA’s NFC and Mobile Money Summit’ the Cynic immediately sat up and smiled, nudging people in the ribs and generally being a nuisance. Once he had been put back in his box, the banner ad was clicked, cynicism was left behind and the mind was prised open.

About an hour later a sort of despair took hold.

Reports and articles were examined, videos were watched, rewound and watched again. Another hour passed because it was clear that we were missing something, something obvious – and big.

Let us imagine that the Summit and its reports, articles and videos was not about NFC because the Cynic gets very excited by those three letters and the mind, as we have said, is open.

So, imagine you are at a conference about a new technology that will somehow transform people’s lives.

And yet it is a technology that has been in existence since 2002. And the large companies behind the technology are happy that it is rolling out slowly – and that it has taken 11 years to start shipping handsets that can harness the technology in any numbers. The infrastructure is expensive. It is mobile payments and yet not. It is competing with 120 other mobile payments solutions, many of which have been launched by smaller,more  innovative companies. The spokesman for one of the large players involved says publically that her company prioritises this technology, “but promotes others as well.” She also says that the way to make this technology work is to have “an inclusive business model, open technology, agreed standards and the positive involvement of regulators.” Was she in the wrong conference, perhaps?

A major operator who is getting behind this great technology says they are going slowly and have three cautious phases in mind. The first phase was to emulate existing payment cards (why?), the second is to improve existing payments (how?) and third is to “transform the experience” – except he didn’t give any actual examples.

He must have thought it, and thank goodness someone actually said it – all of these large companies are still flailing around trying to find a problem that this technology actually solves. ISIS the flagship example, apparently, is not in crisis but about to be launched nationwide – this year. They had better get a move on.

One speaker talked about the ‘queue in the shop’. You know the one, you get to the front, you want to pay, you have to unlock your phone, find the app, get a signal (where is he, Oh, probably London), and then you can pay, knowing that people are getting all edgy behind you. Really? How long does that actually take? A couple of seconds, maybe five? How annoying! A new technology and many multi millions of investment based on shaving a second or two off the payments process? It is almost funny.

The video guided tour around the associated trade show – yes companies actually paid to show off their wares that solve no problem that has not already been solved – was quite amusing. One stand was showing off how you could hold your phone to a sensor and see everything that was in the shop. Most people use their eyes, or if they are not actually in said shop, a QR code will do the trick. Another had invented, wait for it, a keyboard for a smartphone that works when you click your phone onto a holster thing.

Other presentations hedged multiple bets, in fact they should have put a fence on the stage for people to sit on. All of them were ‘cautiously optimistic’ and the mood was ‘upbeat’.

Excellent. We are very happy for them all in their own little world. Just as soon as they think up something that this technology actually solves, makes measurably faster, easier or cheaper, perhaps they could let us know.

Oh, and the real clincher is that Apple is not behind it in any way. And they are quite disappointed about that.


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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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