Pay With Your Cellphone

Cell phones are becoming the payment medium of choice for many people in a wide variety of situations. For example, some nightclubs in London have a nifty trick for identifying VIP guests. The club sends an entry pass in the form of a kind of barcode to the patron's mobile phone. The code is scanned from the screen on the phone by the bouncer at the entrance.

In Atlanta, Hawks' fans are able to use specially adapted Nokia handsets linked to their Visa cards to buy refreshments at the stadium more quickly.

In Australia, it is already possible to go through your day and never use a credit card or cash; use your mobile phone for most transactions.


(Cellphone payment system in Korea)

In Japan, transactions as varied as purchasing railway tickets and buying groceries are handled by passing your mobile phone handset over a device like the one shown above.

Many of these systems use Near Field Communication, a short-range wireless technology developed by Sony and NXP. It works by magnetic field induction; once the phone (or other device containing an NFC chip) is passed within twenty centimeters of the device, the chip "okay's" specified transactions.

Science fiction fans have seen this one before. In the Shadowrun cyberpunk-urban game, players use cred-sticks for payment in any situation. Fans of Dan Simmons' 1989 novel Hyperion might remember the universal credit card.

The earliest exact reference I know about from sf (or anywhere else) comes from the prescient 1965 novel The Age of the Pussyfoot by Frederik Pohl. In the novel, the joymaker (a combination PDA, cellphone and information network browser that is still way ahead conceptually of Apple's iPhone) can be used to make purchases:

To use your joymaker as a credit card: You must know the institutional designation and account spectrum ...
(Read more about Pohl's cellphone credit card)

Nice article on the future of payment at the Economist; thanks to Zac Hunter for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/16/2007)

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