Telecom Italia's Variety of NFC Applications Provide Fresh Optimism
During last week's GSMA NFC and Mobile Money Summit in Milan, I was fortunate to be selected as one of the 1,000 pilot participants of Telecom Italia's NFC trial. Having previously been an early adopter of Orange's Quick Tap in the UK, I was eager to see how mobile payments might differ in another country and whether this might change my attitude to NFC-based mobile payments, for better or worse.
On receiving a Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 NFC for the trial, I was immediately impressed by the variety of NFC uses that were being promoted by Telecom Italia. Unlike Orange Quick Tap, which was primarily limited to in-store payments, the Italian initiative includes public transport, coupons, smart posters and even an interactive NFC visit at the Museum of Science and Technology.
It was encouraging to see NFC being used for so many different things. I don't think the technology should be restricted to mobile payments; if anything, non-payment uses of NFC will probably be more popular in the short term. However, given the scale of this pilot, I was slightly apprehensive whether all the advertised services would work.
Of course, mobile payments were the focus of the show, and so I had to try this first at a local retailer. Using my TIM Wallet app preloaded with €15, I found a nearby participating restaurant to have dinner.
Unfortunately the staff was not familiar with the technology and couldn't process the transaction. But I did get some satisfaction from using my 10 percent discount coupon saved on the app. The discount was applied by tapping my Galaxy Mini 2 against the waiter's Galaxy Mini 2, which I assume was connected to the restaurant's point-of-sale system.
Despite this initial hiccup, I was determined to find other uses for NFC the next day.
One interesting example was exchanging business cards between NFC phones. This certainly had its benefits — I met many people that had run out of physical business cards — but performing the transaction was not straightforward. Many attendees at the event struggled to understand how to set up the phone to make the exchange.
It wasn't all disappointing. In just two days in Milan, I encountered notable successes with my NFC-enabled device. The phone was easily able to read smart posters and connect to the Web links. I was most impressed with the NFC ticket on the phone, which provided two one-day travel passes. I used it to get on the metro and it worked perfectly. I simply waved the phone over the card reader at the ticket barrier (see left). I can already see this would offer a number of benefits to commuters.
NFC ticketing is arguably one of the best usage scenarios for the technology. Early trials, such as the one in London using a Nokia 6131 NFC phone in 2007 and 2008, focussed on this aspect and contributed greatly to raising the profile of NFC. I believe there's still a lot of potential in this area, particularly in London where similar technology is already used on the city's Oyster Card.
So, how did my Italian experience differ from my use of Orange Quick Tap in the UK? Certainly Telecom Italia has provided a variety of very interesting ideas that I think could work well in many cities in the UK. NFC ticketing, which is seeing greater adoption, definitely deserves more attention.
Yet some problems persist, most notably in the area of payments. I'm not sure if my experience in Milan changed my fundamental views on NFC, but it has left me optimistic about what could be achieved with the technology. Judging by the variety and number of attendees at NFC and Mobile Money Summit 2012, I don't think I'm the only one.