RIM to switch on BlackBerry NFC mobile payments in Dubai

Subscribers of UAE-based network Etisalat are set to be among the first in the world to make mobile payments on their BlackBerry NFC phones.

BlackBerry Bold 9900
BOLD 9900: Has received mobile payments certification from MasterCard

NFC mobile payments are set to be introduced in the United Arab Emirates following the signing of a strategic collaboration agreement between Abu Dhabi-based mobile network operator Etisalat, MasterCard and Research in Motion.

“This latest evolution in mobile payments in the UAE will bring consumers ease, security and speed when making daily payments,” say the partners. “Soon consumers will not have to fumble for cash and coins or hand their card over when making payments. Consumers holding an enabled smartphone available in the UAE simply need to tap their smartphone at any MasterCard PayPass [terminal] — and they can be off with their purchase.”

Consumers who acquire an NFC phone from Etisalat will be able to use it as a mobile wallet and link their PayPass-enabled credit, debit or prepaid MasterCard accounts to their mobile phone to fund payments. Consumers will be prompted to enter a PIN on their handset before completing each transaction.

“This is just the beginning of a new era in how we make payments in the UAE,” says Essa Al Haddad, Etisalat’s group chief marketing officer. “The NFC technology used in this application allows a tremendous shift in how we will start to make payments, something that has been talked of for years will soon be a reality. Your mobile could buy you lunch, a cinema ticket, transport, and much more. We look forward to working closely with MasterCard and RIM in shaping the future of mobile payments in the UAE.”

Raghu Malhotra, the Middle East general manager for MasterCard Worldwide, says: “This product has the potential to significantly change the way consumers in the UAE make payments. MasterCard has led the transformation of mobile phones into secure mobile payment devices, providing consumers with a quick, secure and convenient payment option.”

And RIM’s Sandeep Saihgal adds “NFC technology is making BlackBerry smartphones even smarter, whether it’s used for building access, public transportation, ticketing, sharing information or mobile payments.”

Etisalat, which has 140 million customers in 18 countries, has been ready to launch NFC services in Dubai since 2009 but has been forced to delay the launch due to a lack of commercially available NFC phones. The operator does, however, already offer NFC services in Tanzania, through its Zantel subsidiary, and plans to launch in four more African countries this year.

The new NFC service is expected to form part of Etisalat’s next generation ePlus platform, announced earlier this week.

RIM currently offers two types of BlackBerry NFC phone, the Bold 9900/9930 and Curve 9350/9360/9370. The handset maker announced plans earlier this week to switch on the devices’ tag reading and pairing functions in the next BlackBerry 7 OS update “subject to network operator certifications”, via a new service called BlackBerry Tag, and RIM is also working with HID Global to add secure ID services to NFC phones.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 recently received mobile payments certification from MasterCard, making it only the second NFC phone to be certified after the Google Nexus S. Other BlackBerry NFC phones are yet to be certified.

No launch date for the commercial arrival of the service is mentioned in the announcement of the strategic partnership. Reuters reports, however, that the service is expected to go live before the end of 2011.

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