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Mobile payments grow up

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The announcement of Samsung Pay, in direct competition with Apple Pay, is a signal that payments with mobile devices are growing up, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Once a year, Barcelona plays host to an event that signals the key shifts in mobile technology, setting the agenda for personal gadgets for the rest of the year. Mobile World Congress 2015, which took over the city for most of last week, pushed the boundaries just a little further than usual.

The most significant announcement of the week was not a device, however, but a new way of doing something as old as civilisation: making payments.

When Samsung unveiled its new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, it also declared the next phase in its war with Apple. Back in September, Apple had announced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, along with a payment system called Apple Pay. The similarity in names is no coincidence. Samsung wants to make it clear that, not only is it playing in the same space as Apple, but it is doing it better.

Apple Pay works through NFC, or near-field communication, which allows the sending of data from one device to another with a single tap. That data can include files, photos and payment or transactional information, if it has been set up in advance. As a result, a single tap, authenticated via the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 6, can conclude a transaction at an NFC terminal in a retail outlet.

Samsung Pay goes a step further. While it also offers fingerprint verification and NFC, which is still in limited use in the retail world, it ups the ante with MST, which caters for the vast majority of retailers who still use magnetic stripe card readers.

MST, for magnetic secure transmission, allows a device to be placed alongside a card terminal and send a radio signal that mimics the interaction of the magnetic stripe on a card with the terminal. It instantly allows Samsung Pay to be compatible with any retailer in the world that accepts credit, debit or payment cards.

Samsung’s leapfrog over Apple was made possible by its acquisition, earlier this year, of a company called LoopPay, which describes itself as “the world’s first mobile wallet solution that allows consumers to pay with their mobile devices at most places and leave their wallets at home”.

The LoopPay solution, as it existed prior to last week’s announcement, consisted of a LoopPay App and a LoopPay device, which worked in tandem.

“The App manages and securely stores all payment cards including credit, debit, loyalty, and gift cards on the device,” LoopPay explained. “Currently, we offer the LoopPay Card, CardCase, and a stand-alone Case for iPhone 5/5s, 6, and 6 Plus.”

The company’s explanation of how LoopPay works provided no inkling of the scope of Samsung Pay, as it implied any manufacturer could use it. Samsung turned the market on its head with one simple innovation: it built the LoopPay technology into the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, instead of providing an accessory device.

The result is that the phone merely needs the app to be activated for it to run Samsung Pay. It also means that the accessory case for iPhones is almost instantly obsolete.

The service is initially being launched in Samsung’s home territory, South Korea, and in the United States – a direct challenge to Apple. There is no timeframe on its roll-out elsewhere, which suggests Samsung is initially more focused on taking on Apple than on serving consumers.

That is also, most likely, the reason for the cut-and-paste branding of the payment service. It may be the snappiest possible title, but calling it Samsung Pay is also the most sincerest possible form of flattering Apple. If the wheels come off this particular bandwagon, it will be more than a financial disaster for Samsung.

Later this year, American retailers will be required to implement EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) “chip-and-pin” terminals, which may well have to include NFC technology. That opens the rest of the US market to Apple, but still leaves Samsung with a global edge.

In the meantime, other challengers are likely to emerge. Rumours have already surfaced that LG Electronics will build payment technology into the next version of its flagship phone, to be called the LG G4. Numerous mobile payment applications will also have to change their game or find a way to integrate or add to the two Pay systems.

Google Wallet, which was once expected to dominate mobile payments, is fast fading into the background. Its near-demise is a timely lesson to the Pay masters of the mobile world that market domination in one arena does not automatically lead to market success in another.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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LoopPay on how MST works:

“MST technology generates changing magnetic fields over a very short period of time. This is accomplished by putting alternating current through an inductive loop, which can then be received by the magnetic read head of the credit card reader. The signal received from the device emulates the same magnetic field change as a mag stripe card when swiped across the same read head. LoopPay works within a 3-inch distance from the read head. The field dissipates rapidly beyond that point, and only exists during a transmission initiated by the user.”

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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