Ditch your wallet now: NFC mobile payments explained

Still using a sliver of dead cow to hold a collection of shiny circles that you exchange for goods and services? Here's how to not do that any more
NFC mobile payment

NFC mobile payment

Despite being available in the UK since 2011, NFC mobile payments – in which you wave your mobile phone above a terminal to pay for something – are still something of a mystery to most of us. Well, we’re here to shed some light on the subject: here’s what’s available now and what’s coming soon in the world of contactless mobile payments.

But first, let's bust a couple of myths about NFC mobile payment.

Many assume it's insecure – that someone can nick your phone then go on a spending spree with your hard-earned digi-cash. Not true. In fact, using a phone as a mobile wallet is pretty much the same as using a credit or debit card. You can set up PIN protection for each payment if you wish, and if your phone is lost or stolen a quick call to your mobile payment service will see further purchases blocked and, in most cases, fraudulent purchases refunded.

And if your phone's battery dies, you won't be able to make payments, right? Wrong again. An EE spokesman told us yesterday that there's residual power in NFC chips, so they'll still work after the battery has depleted (if you've left your phone dead in a drawer for three months, it might be a different story). Several of the SIM/NFC combinations mentioned below also have their own memory, so it should be able to track your balance too, even when battery-less.


EE Cash on Tap

EE Cash on Tap

EE Cash on Tap

EE this week announced it will be bringing a mobile wallet system called “Cash on Tap” to customers with selected NFC-equipped phones. The system, being run in partnership with MasterCard, will arrive on 17th July and will be accepted in over 230,000 outlets in the UK (McDonald’s, Greggs and Boots among them – anywhere that accepts contactless cards, basically), allowing users to make payments of up to £20.

The system works by embedding your data in the phone’s SIM, and requires you download the EE Tap Wallet app. Money comes from a Cash on Tap account, which you can top up using a credit or debit card. The app is PIN-protected to prevent thieves adding more money to the account, and if you report your phone lost or stolen EE will refund any payments made.

The phones supported for the July roll-out of Cash on Tap are the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia SP.

Orange Quick Tap

The UK’s first mobile wallet service, Orange and Barclaycard’s Quick Tap allows transactions of up to £15 to be made with an NFC phone. The money comes from an account that can be topped up using a MasterCard or Visa credit or debit card. It works in a similar way to Cash on Tap and offers similar security measures, including the option to require a PIN every time you make a payment.

The only phone in Orange’s current range to support Quick Pay is the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE. 

Vodafone SmartPass

Due for launch in the UK this year, Vodafone SmartPass is another system that uses a special NFC-embedded SIM card and a app in order to add credit to your account. You can PIN protect payments if you wish, and cancel the account in the event of losing your phone.

The system, which will be run in partnership with Visa, is being publicly trialled in Australia and Italy at the moment, and reportedly by hundreds of Vodafone staff here in the UK. Expect SmartPass to roll out very soon.


O2 Wallet

o2 wallet

o2 wallet

O2 Wallet currently doesn’t support NFC payments, but the network has announced that it is currently testing a “second phase” of the app which will do just that.


O2, along with Vodafone and EE, is also one of the co-founders of Weve, a company working on setting up a proper, unified platform for NFC mobile phone payments in the UK. Weve will launch its platform, which will feature discounts, automated loyalty schemes and the ability to pay bills, at some point in 2014.

Visa payWave

Visa Europe has announced that it will launch a mobile contactless payments system to the UK by December this year. Details are fairly thin on the ground, but it’ll likely use the payWave system, which keeps the payment details in an embedded secure element in a phone’s NFC chip rather than on the SIM card. By doing things this way, payWave keeps the mobile networks out of the mobile payment equation, leaving the phone manufacturer and Visa to slice up the profits.

At present, the only phone to come with the secure payWave applet pre-installed is the Samsung Galaxy S4. But expect more devices – particularly from Samsung, which has inked a partnership deal with Visa – to feature it in the near future.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet

Google Wallet

Google Wallet isn’t available in the UK, and Google has not announced plans to bring it across the pond – but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it arrive at some point in the future.

Google’s approach is similar to what Weve is trying to do: to not only replace your credit card but also your money-off coupons, loyalty cards, gift vouchers with an NFC-equipped phone.

It features a PIN system and all unauthorised purchases are covered by purchase protection.