Chase Joins Other Big U.S. Banks in Plans to Test microSDs

JPMorgan Chase bank plans to test mobile payment using contactless microSD cards and a Visa payWave application, NFC Times has learned.

Chase joins at least three other big U.S. banks with plans this year to trial the technology, which users will insert into smartphones and tap to pay at contactless terminals in retail outlets. Plans for pilots have already been disclosed for Bank of America, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. Like Chase, all are reportedly among the top 10 banks in the United States in terms of assets. 

Demand for contactless microSDs and other new accessories that can turn phones into contactless-payment devices has jumped among U.S. banks, fueled in part by plans by giant U.S. mobile carriers to launch their own mobile-payment services on NFC phones. The microSDs could enable banks to offer mobile payment without involving the telcos or sharing revenue with them.

The Chase trial likely will be similar to those planned by the other banks. All the trials are expected to test the microSDs in popular smartphone models, such as the iPhone and BlackBerrys. The trials are also expected to be small and to be held mainly among bank employees. Bank of America’s test was scheduled to begin this week in New York City, with the others expected to follow this fall. Turkey’s Akbank also plans to test the microSD cards with Visa Europe sometime this year.

For the iPhone, which does not have a slot for microSDs, banks will use a specially designed sleeve by U.S.-based DeviceFidelity. The vendor also makes the contactless microSDs, under an exclusive contract with Visa.

The iPhone sleeve has a microSD slot and full-sized contactless antenna, which means it would have a range similar to that of contactless cards. But other contactless microSDs are inserted directly into phones. The cards are embedded with tiny antennas that are too small to transmit data to terminals without a power boost from the phones.

This and different configurations of microSD slots in various phones models have raised questions about whether the consumer experience will be consistent for Visa payWave applications across all microSDs and with the way consumers tap payWave cards. An inconsistent user experience would cause delays in certification from Visa needed by banks to move beyond tests to rollouts.

But a Visa spokeswoman told NFC Times the card brand believes the technology “will be commercially ready by the end of the first quarter (2011).”

“How banks will actually bring it to market and with what strategy will be up to them,” she said.

Observers expect Visa to certify DeviceFidelity’s In2Pay cards to run–at least at first–only with a limited number of phone models, probably the iPhone and some other popular smartphones models.

Chase was the first big U.S. bank to embrace contactless payment and has rolled out millions of “blink” contactless cards since 2005. It participated in one of the earliest contactless-mobile trials ever held, in 2003, near Dallas, Texas, and later was involved in an NFC Trial in Atlanta that launched in late 2005. But the bank has been quiet since then with regard to contactless-mobile payment.


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