Samsung Galaxy S III Olympic Smartphone Looks to Ignite NFC Interest

A limited-edition Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, with Visa's NFC-based payWave mobile app, may be just the push the mobile payment market needs.

A limited edition of the Samsung Galaxy S III super-phone will be paired with some super humans this summer. Samsung- and Visa-sponsored athletes and trialists participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games will each receive their own special edition of the smartphone, enabled with Visa's new payWave mobile payment application, the two companies announced May 9.

It's good advertising for Samsung, certainly. But more, it could help to push mobile payments into the mainstream. Despite the inclusion of near-field communications (NFC) technology in a number of handsets, and backing from dozens of major retailers, as well as credit card companies, wireless carriers and mobile phone makers, the technology has yet to find much traction among U.S. consumers.

The Galaxy S III, with its half-dozen sensors for intuiting a user's desires, may also prove a particularly good ambassador for the mobile payments, which require a user to simply tap an NFC-enabled phone to a small terminal at the register. In the case of Visa's payWave, purchases above approximately $30 will require the user to type in a passcode.

"By the time of the Olympic Games, there will be more than 140,000 contactless terminals around the UK," Samsung and Visa said in a joint statement. "From the moment visitors land at Heathrow they will be immersed in a contactless payment experience with everything from taxis to retail outlets to the Olympic Park itself."

Bill Gajda, Visa's global head of mobile products, added, "This summer we will be demonstrating the future of payments in London€”a future where most consumers will rely on mobile devices, tablets and PCs to manage their daily financial lives."

Research firm Berg Insight expects global sales of NFC-equipped phones to reach 700 million units by 2016€”up from 2011's 30 million phones. More importantly, the technology inside those phones is expected to get some use. Juniper Research expects transactions from NFC-based services to total $50 billion worldwide by 2014.

By that time, Juniper also expects NFC to be in one out of five smartphones.

In May 2011, Google launched its NFC-based Google Wallet on the Samsung Nexus S 4G, with Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt predicting that a third of checkout terminals in restaurants and retail stores would allow NFC mobile payments within a year's time.

If that guess was a little off, it wasn't from a lack of trying by everyone but consumers. Verizon Wireless has a Payfone, browser-based mobile payment app, but is also part of the NFC-based Isis solution with AT&T and T-Mobile. MasterCard has a QkR app that lets it get in the NFC game, and electronics maker LG has also tried to encourage the mobile payments market with its Optimus LTE Tag, a "phablet" with not just NFC inside but NFC stickers, or tags, that device owners can use to implement demands€”for example, swiping a tag upon entering one's office could put the phone on vibrate and make the device revert to WiFi.

Research In Motion, in November, even kicked off a pilot plan with Spain's telecom giant Telefonica, equipping 350 Telefonica employees with NFC-equipped phones that can do everything from make payments to gain them access to their workplace.

"We're getting ever closer to the point where our customers will be able to take the contents of their wallets and put them on their mobiles," Telefonica CEO Matthew Key said at the time.

Visa and Samsung hope to bring us still that much closer.