Citigroup, MasterCard Worldwide, Cingular Wireless and Nokia are testing near-field communication (NFC) cell phones in the New York City on the 4, 5 and 6 subway lines. Using NFC phones, program participants can pay their subway fare by simply "tapping" the phone on a payment terminal.
"Carrying a mobile phone has become almost as common as carrying a wallet," says Scott McElroy, VP of technology realization for Cingular Wireless. "This trial will continue to help us learn more about how NFC technologies work and how customers will want to use their phones as part of their real-world transaction processes."
Pre-selected Citi MasterCard cardholders with Cingular Wireless accounts are participating in the trial, expected to last through April. These cardholders received NFC-enabled mobile phones that use technology and chips developed by NXP Semiconductors, and the phones are equipped with MasterCard PayPass, a "contactless" payment program. When held up to PayPass payment terminals, the phones act as credit cards, with the payment automatically charged to the user through the same MasterCard payment network that processes traditional credit card transactions.
"We believe New York City makes an ideal backdrop for a technology built on speed and convenience," says Art Kranzley, executive VP and group executive of advanced payments at MasterCard Worldwide. "MasterCard has long believed that the mobile phone represents a ubiquitous payment device because consumers continue to grow more comfortable using them for activities beyond making and receiving calls."
The popularity of the mobile phone as a versatile payment tool has prompted NFC trials in other parts of the country. Visa is testing mobile payment coupons and rewards at its Foster City, Calif., headquarters; MasterCard, Nokia and 7-Eleven are conducting a PayPass "Tap & Go" trial in Dallas; and sports fans in Atlanta experimented with NFC technology in late 2005 to purchase hot dogs and peanuts at hockey and basketball games.
Utilities (Etc.) Set to Gain from Indus-MDSI Merger
This January saw the coming together of Indus, a service delivery mangement (SDM) solutions provider, and MDSI, a workforce management software provider. Together the two (which as of press time had not been given a new, joint name) hope to capitalize on the growing demand for integrated service delivery management solutions. To meet this demand, however, analysts say the new company must overcome some key challenges.
Perhaps the most important of those challenges is finding the right balance between offering solutions designed for utilities, but that can be used in other industries as well. Together, the companies serve the utility and energy markets with a client base that includes 18 of the top 20 utility companies in North America. Indus branched out into other industries with its 2004 acquisition of workforce management provider Wishbone Systems and now provides solutions for customers in the cable, finance, manufacturing, medical and pharmaceutical industries.
"Both companies are well entrenched in energy and utilities, but will need an aggressive plan to assume a leadership position in other sectors," states an analysis of the merger conducted by The Aberdeen Group.
Before the merger, MDSI developed partnerships with vendors that competed with Indus, most notably MRO Software (which was recently acquired by IBM). The new company must now additionally find a way to offer software solutions to utilities and embrace existing (and new) partnerships.
According to research firm Energy Insights, "The newly merged company must tread a fine line between offering an integrated solution to utility companies and continuing to provide unbundled functionality that enables it to support partners. Indus and MDSI have indicated that the combined company intends to support a 'best of breed separately or together' strategy."
First Look: Global Telecom & Technology Inc.
OVERVIEW: Formed in October 2006 through the acquisition of Global Internetworking Inc., European Telecommunications & Technology Ltd. and Mercator Partners Acquisition Corp., this multi-network operator (MNO) says it offers custom-designed, vendor-neutral and best of breed telecommunications services for enterprises and service providers. OFFICES: Headquartered in McLean, Va., with offices in New York, London, Paris, Dusseldorf, Germany, and New Delhi, India. CUSTOMERS: More than 200, including Continental AG and the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency. www.gt-t.net
Wireless USB Cuts Out Cables
After years in development, a new short-range wireless technology could bring about the cable-free desktop. Certified Wireless USB could not only eliminate computer and printer cables, but boost productivity by improving connectivity amongst workers. With Wireless USB technology, mobile workers will no longer have to search for a printer on a network and connect to itâ€”they can simply print documents from the nearest printer or multi-function device. Workers can also use Wireless USB to share devices and exchange large files off of hard disk drives without sending them through email or over the company network.
Products using Wireless USB have already started shipping. Most use a piece of hardware called a dongle, which plugs into the existing USB ports on a PC or other device. Like their
traditional counterparts, wireless USBs support only one connection at a time between a host and a device.
Jeff Ravencraft, chairman and president of the USB Implementers Forum, expects about 300 million Wireless USB-supported devices to be ready for market by 2010. With that in mind, companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Samsung are developing products that utilize wireless USB technology. Alereon has also unveiled a chipset for wireless USB applications, a move Ravencraft predicts will help the wireless USB market "move forward quickly."
Push Comes to Treo
Palm Treo 680 and 700p smartphones now have what many other mobile devices have long enjoyed: push email.
"This gets us up into the game," says Joe Fabris, director of wireless solutions at Palm. "The beautiful part about direct push technology is that email messages arrive right when they are sent. That puts us on par with other products. Push email has become expected [on phones]. It's become like a checkbox."
This checkbox has been around since RIM's BlackBerry began automatically delivering push email to handhelds several years ago. RIM was the only wireless provider to offer the service until other companies--such as Good, Sybase iAnywhere and Intellisyncâ€”began releasing their own push email solutions and architecture. Microsoft entered the fray last year with Direct Push, an Exchange component that allows IT departments and data centers to push their Exchange data to Microsoft smartphones.
Palm's handhelds sync with Exchange servers but until now they haven't been able to send or receive Exchange data from the field without help. The Treo 680 and 700p work with an updated version of Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, the program linking Palm's VersaMail email client with Microsoft's Exchange email server. The update lets Exchange servers push email, contacts and calendar items to the smartphones.
"Mobile users are increasingly demanding fast, automatic updates to email, calendar and contacts. IT departments struggle to offer this productivity-enhancing capability to an ever-increasing number of workers in a cost-effective and secure manner," says Jeff Ressler, director of product management for Microsoft Exchange Server. "The addition of Direct Push Technology will help Palm's customers meet these growing user needs securely and cost-effectively by leveraging their existing, highly scalable Exchange Server infrastructure."
Besides providing users with the convenience of push email, the Exchange update gives IT managers better control over Palm-based handhelds by allowing them to enforce password policies over the air and wipe data from lost or stolen devices. The update can be installed over the air, too, saving mobile workers a trip to the home office.
The update also gives users the ability to access their company's Global Address List (GAL) over the air. Says Fabris, "Extending Microsoft's Direct Push Technology to the Palm OS-based line of Treo smartphones gives business customers a powerful new choice for wireless email, security and manageability."