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16th August 2011

US mobile networks preventing mobile contactless payment?

It is alleged that AT&T is preventing the Near Field Communication facility within the BlackBerry Bold 9900 in the US. Vodafone announced that it would not support NFC on the same model. The NFC facility is required for mobile phones to make contactless payments. There is currently only one other commonly available phone with this capability built in. Given the great wave of excitement over the use of mobile contactless payment this is serious if proved correct. The accusation against AT&T is that it wishes to block the feature in order to prevent other mobile payment systems getting established before the ISIS mobile payment venture in which it is involved is ready to launch.


Mobile operators have suppressed various features in the past for a period before later releasing them. Examples are VoIP with Skype generally suppressed until a number of court cases and the blocking of ports required for 'proper' (SIP based) VoIP. Microsoft built a VoIP capability into its previous mobile platform but then did not distribute it under pressure from the networks. The software found its way onto the internet at a later time. Alternative messaging services and even Bluetooth have been blocked by certain operators in the past. In the latter case the usual claim from the operators is that they cannot support the technology others suggest it is because they were worried about losing revenue from services that compete to a degree.


The matter is also serious for RIM, makers of the Blackberry. RIM had been hoping that by delivering the second model with widely available NFC model in the US it would be able to regain some of its lost market share.