LAS VEGAS — Call the Money2020 panel on NFC’s future as the engine that will power mobile payments a divided caucus.
One panelist, Hans Reisgies, a co-founder of Sequent, an NFC-focused company based in Redwood City, Calif., was loudly bullish. When asked what the chances that NFC (Near Field Communication) will ultimately prevail as the standard for mobile payments, he scored it a 5, 5 standing for a dead-on certainty.
Other panelists at Wednesday's session were more circumspect. Didier Serra, founder of INSIDE Secure, also in Redwood City and a big player in powering payments for public transit via NFC, scored it a 2. “I don’t think it will be the technology at point of sale,” he explained.
Mohamed Awad, vice chairman of the NFC Forum, offered a hedged prediction: “NFC will be a big part of our lives, it will grow in importance, but it is too early to say it will be dominant.”
Part of NFC’s problem, said Reisgies, is that it had been oversold in in its early years. Proponents, he said, “claimed NFC was the answer for everything. It isn’t. But it is very good at some things.”
Such as? Reisgies pointed to a recently announced deal between his company and mobile carrier Sprint where Sprint is rolling out NFC to millions of users. “But more than half of the use cases will be non-payment,” said Reisgies, who pointed to access controls (gaining entry to locked doors in offices and also hotels with a tap of an NFC phone) and transit solutions as prime cases in point. “There are real places where consumers will use NFC.”
As for the belief that Apple’s shunning of NFC to date on the iPhone has been a death sentence, Awad poo-poohed that. “There are many third-party options for enabling it on iPhone,” he said.
He added that “Android has it on many, many phones. We should be past the point where people say NFC just isn’t available on phones. It is. There are maybe 300 million NFC equipped phones out there.”
What about the extremely slow launch of Isis, the mobile carrier-backed NFC payments initiative? Said Awad: “Isis needs to work on tempering expectations. The bar has been set too high. Isis is in fact building out a whole payment scheme,” involving both consumers and merchants. “That will take time.”
“If Isis succeeds it will move the whole (NFC) industry forward,” said Reisgies.
And if it doesn’t? This panel did not address that pointed question.