Research In Motion won't be left out of the growing mobile-payment market. The BlackBerry maker announced Jan. 16 that Visa has approved its Secure Element Manager (SEM) solution, which enables mobile payments not just on BlackBerry smartphones but any device equipped with near-field communication (NFC) technology.
"The approval from Visa of RIM's SEM solution is an important step in that it will enable carriers to support Visa-issuing banks and financial institutions," Frank Maduri, senior director of NFC Services and Trusted Service Manager (TSM) product management at RIM, said in a statement. "We now offer carriers a robust solution with around-the-clock global support that works on any NFC-capable device and meets the stringent technology and usability guidelines for Visa."
The announcement is among the final puzzle pieces RIM is putting into place as it prepares to present its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform and smartphones Jan. 30.
The highly secure nature of the BlackBerry platform—which makes the SEM solution a natural fit—made RIM's devices the handsets of choice in regulated industries, as well as less stringently overseen enterprises. But the mainstream appeal of Apple's iPhone and Android-running devices like the Galaxy S III has been more than RIM's aging handset line can compete against. With its upcoming devices and refreshed platform, RIM is hoping to maintain its enterprise appeal, while also attracting consumers and offering a strong consumer experience—which means lots of games, applications and out-of-the-office perks.
Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have all committed to carrying the new handsets, and RIM has said that its carrier partners around the world are excited about what they've seen. More than 150 carriers had begun the lab-entry process, CEO Thorsten Heins said during RIM's Dec. 20, 2012, earnings call.
The carriers also want to begin selling the smartphones as quickly as possible, and Heins said RIM will announce release dates with many of its partners during the Jan. 30 event.
"There's a very good dynamic at play here, and I'm looking forward to fulfilling those requirements and requests and purchase orders from our customers," Heins said during the call.
RIM has also been hurrying to fill its redesigned applications store, and on Jan. 11 kicked off a 36-hour "Port-A-Thon" during which it offered developers incentives to bang out approvable applications. Just past the event's official end, the number of contributed apps tipped over the 15,000 applications mark.
RIM has high hopes for BlackBerry 10, and analysts expect big things of the mobile-payment market—though less big, in the immediate future, than if Apple had included NFC in the iPhone 5.
In December, Juniper Research revised its forecasts for the global NFC market, scaling back expected transaction values to $110 billion in 2017, versus the originally forecast $180 billion.
"While many vendors have introduced NFC-enabled smartphones, Apple's decision is a significant blow for the technology, particularly given its previous successes in educating the wider public about new mobile services," said Juniper report author Windsor Holden. "Without their support, it will be even more difficult to persuade consumers—and retailers—to embrace what amounts to a wholly new means of payment."
However, Samsung, the top-selling phone and smartphone maker, has given NFC its backing, explaining that NFC makes possible contactless payments, simplified transportation and makes communication simpler for people with disabilities.