Facebook distributes Bling Nation payment tags to staff amid rumours of a major Silicon Valley NFC plan

The Bling Nation NFC sticker trial in Silicon Valley has expanded from its beginnings at PayPal’s headquarters to include the Stanford University campus, Palo Alto city services and Facebook’s offices — as rumours of a major NFC play by some of Silicon Valley’s leading companies begin to emerge.

INTO THE VALLEY: 6000 Bling Tags are ‘in the wild’ in Palo Alto so far

Bling Nation’s mobile payments pilot in Palo Alto has now expanded to include distribution of mobile contactless stickers to staff at Facebook’s headquarters and to the Stanford University campus. The City of Palo Alto has also backed the trial, enabling local residents to use their Bling Tags to pay utility bills, long-term parking bills and parking fines with plans to include city libraries, community centers and various museums in the coming months.

The expansion comes as speculation is building that a group of leading Silicon Valley companies are behind a major initiative to launch a suite of disruptive new services based on NFC technology. No names have been confirmed as yet but Google, Facebook, Apple and PayPal are being watched most closely.

Apple has filed a suite of NFC-related patents and recently hired an NFC expert as its new head of mobile commerce and PayPal is working with Bling Nation on the Palo Alto trial but, despite having much to gain from the arrival of near field communication technology, both Google and Facebook have so far kept a very low profile when it comes to NFC.

Now, Google is rumoured to be about to distribute as many as eight million “custom mobile devices” to small businesses around the US, according to Techcrunch. “These devices will allow customers to check-in and rate the businesses and perhaps even purchase items via Google Checkout.”

Facebook, meanwhile, is reported to be working on a ‘Facebook phone’ — or, at least, is working with manufacturers to develop phones that optimise the Facebook experience on a mobile handset. And, while it is yet to make any public move towards NFC, the company is certainly aware of its potential. In April, all attendees of the company’s f8 developer conference were issued with RFID tags that enabled them to check-in to various locations around the conference venue.

While there is no confirmation yet that either of these projects will have an NFC angle, the fact that they come on top of rumours of a major NFC play being planned in Silicon Valley suggest that they may. Whether Bling Nation will be the payments solution of choice for any Silicon Valley-backed NFC venture also remains to be seen. But the fact that Bling Nation’s payments technology is specifically designed to reduce costs by cutting out middlemen, such as acquirers, processors and brands such as Visa and MasterCard, is likely to hold great appeal in an environment where the development and adoption of disruptive technologies is very much the order of the day…

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6 comments on this article

  1. I’m the author of RFID for Dummies, and my company, ODIN, has deployed thousands of RFID readers across five continents. From all that experience I can tell you two things that matter in this new world of mobile payments and social network. NFC is a 30% solution and the challenges around UHF can be solved with physics.

    UHF RFID based on ISO 18000-6 standard is a much more functional choice for combining the virtual world with the physical world. The longer read range means you can do things like auto-read your location when you walk in a doorway, or your phone can lock up if it is more than a few feet away from you, or your 16 year ol’s phone can be disabled when she’s driving in the car, or a photo can be automatically taken and posted to your Facebook account when you go over the top of a roller coaster loop. None of these uses are possible with NFC. But NFC is easy to put in a mobile phone because other countries have been doing it for ten years.

    It’s time to innovate and add real value with RFID. Look at what Vail Resorts is doing with EpicMix – combining the physical and virtual worlds into a whole new user experience through RFID based on UHF. That is the future.

    1. Patrick,

      Thanks for your RFID book as it taught me and a lot of people a lot. We are working with inner city retailers and building customer relationship models using the very same technology you just described. We are implementing technology that will UHF RFID to detect customers when they walk in the door and SMS/mobile e-mail them deals on the spot based on past history.

      Long range RFID has many marketing options and we are planning to use it in a variety of ways in high dense urban markets (the hood/ghetto to outsiders) to help revitalize inner city commercial zones.

        1. Tim,

          The inner city is the most ripe field for this technology, not sparse Silicon Valley or shallow Stanford students. We are the ones who really need a cashless retail model to prevent crime and encourage commerce in our high-density communities.

          The research already show that inner city youth adopt mobile base technology than any other group. It was the inner city that made everything from the beeper, skypager mainstream and you best believe the inner city will make NFC mainstream. Most inner city people already adopted EBT cards and RFID public transit cards. VCs and tech news know this data but never publish this fact..

          I will provide more details but I can tell you we have already been moving back and forth to Asia in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong to help understand how to use cashless, contactless retail/marketing models with both 915Mhz UHF RFID and 13.25khz as well as 2D reading business models in high density areas similar to typical inner city neighborhoods.

          1. Ed,

            I totally agree with you and would like to know if there are any opportunities for me to get involved or learn even more. I in fact, grew up in the inner city and now work in Silicon Valley. I currently have a BlingTag. In a place like Palo Alto, there are often no crowds in many businesses where this NFC tech has been implemented. Whereas go to a much more densely populated urban city, and there is a need. This is more of an issue the haves and have nots. Basically, he who can pay, can experience. There hasn’t been enough thought put into effective implementation.

  2. Tim,

    I’ll stick around on this board but there are two things we already discovered working in the “real world” regarding NFC.

    1) Prepaid phone usage has skyrocketed and I do not understand why this effort to put a chip in a phone for NFC that will require a contract. Most people who will use NFC will do so on a prepaid basis and will use prepaid phone. In addition, most prepaid users chuck their phones after a while for a newer phone in shrink wrap at Target/Wal-Mart.

    2) Our research has shown that the iPod Touch 4 is the device to be on, not mobile phones. We can blanket our own Wi-Fi radius in a inner city high commercial zone so iPod Touch 4 users can connect to an access point and merchants can do NFC/SSL over Wi-Fi based transaction.

    These are just two things we throwing out from our real world work and it’s great to know we can work out of the hood/ghetto – the best stealth there is because the status quo naturally ignore us..

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