I was looking for an old paper for reasons not germane to this particular subject and I came across the proceedings of "Mobile Phones and Electronic Commerce" organised by IBC in September 1997. It was mildly interesting to flick through the presentations ten years on, particularly the stuff about the Cellnet / Barclaycard phone. There were some quotes about it selling 20,000 handsets in 6 weeks. I believe the figures because they came from Tom Alexander. We were working for Tom at the time, doing some feasibility work on electronic payments. I don’t recall the ins and outs, but I do remember that the Mondex e-purse was a focus of particular interest, but it came up against a brick wall: you couldn’t just put Mondex purses into the SIMs, you had to get a bank to issue them. And none of them would: I expect they were waiting see whether this mobile phone thing would catch on or not. Tom was always very forward-looking: he eventually left Cellnet to set up Virgin Mobile, the first UK MVNO. Needless to say, he doesn’t have to work anymore.
The Cellnet "blue button" Barclaycard phone later morphed into the two-slot phone (a Motorola Startac) that you could put your chip (UKIS) Barclaycard into and, much more importantly, worked with VisaCash. I always loved the logical purity of the two-slot phones and I was very disappointed when they faded away. But now they’re back! Instead of a slot, they have NFC, but the idea (and the benefits) are the same: let the telco do telco stuff, let the bank do card stuff. Of course, the card is going to disappear inside the phone soon, but it will still be the banks’ application.
I wonder if the first contactless prepaid debit product will be launched on a commercially-available NFC handsets in the UK by 22nd September 2007 (hint: no). If it is, then it will only be 10 years after the delegates at this conference were discussing such a thing. There’s a nice piece from Kevin Duffey, then at Logica, about a vision of phone with all of the functionality of an ATM (including e-cash withdrawal) being launched within 18 months. In the end, it’s taken nearly a decade to get the UK banks on board with this — MoniLink started in 2006 — and we still don’t have e-cash but it is, at last, in sight.
These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]