Few consumers tapping smartphones to pay

Consumers want new payment mode to work on public buses and trains

Sign-ups for a government- backed system that lets consumers pay for goods and services by tapping their mobile phones have been slow.

Since the launch of the mobile payment system using Near Field Communication (NFC) wireless technology last August, only about 15,000 people have upgraded their phones to pay for meals, groceries and taxi rides, sources told The Straits Times.

Of this number, only about half paid for the SIM card upgrade required to use the service; the other half were given the SIM cards free in various telco promotions.

Many consumers are holding out for what they described as the "killer" application - payment for bus and train rides.

Also, most of the smartphones here are not "certified" to work on the system.

Some users feel that until mobile payment is accepted on buses and trains, they would not rush to upgrade their phones.

"I still prefer to use cash to pay for small items like food and cab rides," said businessman Paddy Tan, 38.

Others said they are held back by limited handsets that work with the local payment system.

Today, consumers can choose from fewer than 10 models of NFC phones from Samsung and Sony - including Samsung Galaxy S III and Sony Xperia S - that are certified to work with the mobile payment system. Other major handset makers like Apple, Nokia and HTC have yet to come on board.

Social worker Paul Teo, 40, said that he prefers to use an iPhone but it does not have that capability yet.

The new payment mode is being made available by a consortium of companies led by French smartcard chipmaker Gemalto. The other consortium members are Citibank Singapore, DBS Bank, EZ-Link, M1, SingTel and StarHub.

The payment mode is accepted at 30,000 retail points islandwide, including ComfortDelGro taxis, Watsons, G2000 and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) - which partly funded the national mobile payment service - also said it is working with consortium members to provide more services including loyalty programmes, secured access and mobile ticketing.

IDA would not elaborate on these services, including when commuters can start tapping their phones to pay for public bus and train rides.

To get started, consumers must have a smartphone equipped with NFC capabilities - a short-range wireless communication technology that transmits data between a mobile device and a reader.

Users also need to buy an NFC SIM card that costs between $20 and $37 - although telcos waive the charges from time to time - and download payment apps like the EZ-Link stored-value app or DBS One.Tap MasterCard PayPass virtual credit card.

These apps will not work on handsets that are not certified by Gemalto and EZ-Link - one reason why handsets are limited at present, The Straits Times understands.

With every major phone operating system update, handsets must also be sent to Gemalto and EZ-Link for re-certification for the apps to continue to work.

Another reason consumers are not flocking to use the new payment option is the lack of apps that can be used by customers of all three telcos - SingTel, StarHub and M1.

The EZ-Link app remains the only common service offered by the three telcos.

Because of this, "NFC will never really become mainstream in Singapore", said Mr Cyrus Daruwala, the Asia-Pacific managing director of market research firm IDC.