Drawing flocks of international tourists and a massive virtual audience, the Olympic Games represent a prime venue to showcase innovative new technology. This year, as all eyes turn to London, mobile payment technology may steal the show, with industry players vying to generate global interest in newly-emergent m-payment platforms. But will the buzz wear off when the Olympic flame fades?
Showcasing the Olympic Potential
In 2008, Olympic spectators worldwide were awe-struck by the majestic architecture of Beijing’s Olympic stadiums. During the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, the spotlight was on social media, as the games demonstrated the power of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to unite a global audience. As the London games quickly approach, Visa is hoping to create a similar buzz around mobile payments, teaming up with Samsung to unveil the official London Olympics near-field communications (NFC) payment app – PayWave. Using the NFC-enabled Samsung Galaxy S III, the official phone of the London Games, consumers will be able to use their phones to pay at thousands of locations across the Olympic Park.
Through a sleek, clutter-free user interface, the app will enable users to determine whether payments will be automatic for small transactions, or if they would prefer to enter a passcode.
Users will also be able to check a list of their recent transactions and view their balance in real-time.
To pique consumer interest and encourage participation, PayWave-equipped phones have already been distributed to key Olympics stakeholders,
and will be given to all Visa and Samsung sponsored athletes competing in the Games.
To address the severe lack of supporting infrastructure for NFC payment platforms in the UK, which has posed a persistent barrier to widespread adoption of the technology, the past year has witnessed a massive campaign to set up NFC terminals nationwide. All together, approximately 140,000 NFC terminals will be set up in time for the opening ceremony, according to a press release from Samsung and Visa.
More than 5,000 taxis and 350 Coca-Cola vending machines in the Olympic Park will also be outfitted with NFC capabilities.
A Catalyst for M-Payments in the UK?
While the high-profile partnership between Visa and Samsung has taken the spotlight, an array of other mobile payment offerings have emerged in the UK in the months leading up to the Games. Project Oscar, the mobile payments joint venture that we discussed in a recent issue
, is likely to gain regulatory approval from the European Commission as early as this summer, according to an FT report.
Starbucks is also increasing its UK presence ahead of the Olympics, unveiling a Starbucks for Android app with mobile pay functionality.
On the banking side, Barclays UK has continued to develop its diverse m-payment offerings, from the recent Pingit mobile payment app
to the PayTag contactless payment sticker that can be slapped onto the back of any mobile phone.
For mobile payment stakeholders like Visa and Barclays, the Olympic Games represent a high-profile pilot test, through which they can trial new platforms on a global, captive consumer base. According to Mary Carol Harris of Visa Europe, “We have to take consumers on a journey. We hope that showcasing mobile payments at the Olympics, when the eyes of the world are on London, will be an important part of that.”
By accelerating NFC terminal installation, enhancing customer awareness of mobile payments and leveraging Olympic excitement, the Olympics may build momentum behind m-payment adoption globally.
However, an array of concerns have been raised that could inhibit the impact of “the Olympics factor” on mobile payment adoption. McAfee mobile security researcher Jimmy Shah, for example, has expressed wariness that the high-profile PayWave trial may attract the attention of fraudsters, who could seize the opportunity to hack into NFC handsets.
He added that although this would be an expensive and time-consuming process, it is one that should be considered as a threat nonetheless.
Continued security concerns among consumers in the UK and worldwide may also impede wide adoption of mobile payment technology, as we have discussed in a previous issue
. Results of a survey by UK-based market research firm YouGov showed that of those who said they were not likely to adopt mobile payments, two-thirds were concerned about fraud and security, with 52 percent worried about viruses or malware.
Despite large-scale marketing campaigns and technological advances, these misgivings are unlikely to evaporate over the course of the Olympics; rather, this process will require patience as consumers slowly warm to the idea of putting their treasured account information into mobile phones.
Beyond security issues, while consumers may experiment with NFC payments amid the excitement of the Olympics, it remains to be seen whether or not this interest will remain as Olympic fever subsides. Beijing’s once majestic Olympic venues are now underutilized and a drain on public finances. Will the flurry of m-payment adoption during the games be yet another Olympic vestige that fades from the spotlight once the international media turns its attention elsewhere?
Already, visible cracks in the UK’s NFC-payment infrastructure suggest that sustainability will be a challenge over the coming months and years. For example, NFC technology is still too slow for London’s Underground metro, according to Transport for London customer experience director Shashi Verma.
Further, Apple has yet to integrate NFC chips into their iPhones in the UK and worldwide, even with other smartphone companies rolling out NFC-enabled devices.
Despite these challenges, Visa Europe’s Sandra Alzetta, has asserted: “In 2012, mobile payment is finally going to happen.”
With the Olympic Games driving growth in NFC-enabled terminals and handsets, along with the introduction of new mobile payment platforms in the UK, this lofty prediction may not be far afield. While a high-profile security failure during the games could be devastating for the fledgling industry, the benefits of Olympic publicity far outweigh the possible risks. If all goes smoothly, mobile payment providers could emerge as the true winners of the Olympic games.