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    Time to Pay? Put It on the Cell

    Cellular phones could become latest payment option for customers.

    NEW YORK -- Already a device of multiple uses, from camera to music player and mini-TV, the cell phone's next trick might be the disappearing wallet.

    A mobile device could make payments just as easily as credit and debit cards, according to an Associated Press report.

    At the simplest level, all that's needed is to embed phones with a short-range radio chip to beam credit-card information to a terminal at a store register. It's not unlike the wireless system used to pay tolls on many highways or the SpeedPass keychain wand used to buy gas at Exxon Mobil Corp. pumps.

    This is already a reality in Japan, where NTT DoCoMo Inc. says 3 million cell-phone subscribers use its Mobile Wallet service to buy things at 20,000 stores and vending machines.

    Similar services might be on the way in the United States and Europe. MasterCard International Inc. has been testing phone-based versions of its PayPass contactless payment technology since 2003 and might conduct a significant market trial next year.

    But there also are more ambitious visions brewing that contemplate the cell phone as a new focal point for managing your personal finances. The phone would supplant not only credit and debit cards, but wallets, checkbooks, Web sites, computer programs like Quicken, and online bill payment services such as PayPal or CheckFree.

    A small technology company named C-Sam Inc. recently succeeded in launching its OneWallet cell-phone platform with corporations in the United Arab Emirates, India and Japan.

    For the card companies, it's not a matter of convenience. Their main goal is to drive more spending -- and card transaction fees -- by making the phone a quick way to pay with a single designated account.

    In May, JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced plans for a mass-market rollout of MasterCard and Visa cards with a radio chip starting this summer in Atlanta with almost 1 million of the cards going out to consumers.

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