a device of multiple disguises, from camera to music player
and mini-TV, the cellphones next trick may be the disappearing
After all, since more than a quarter of the people on the
planet already carry around cellphones, and hundreds of millions
are joining them every year, why should they bring along credit
and debit cards when a mobile device can make payments just
At the simplest level, all thats needed is to embed
phones with a short-range radio chip to beam credit card information
to a terminal at a store register. Its not unlike the
wireless system used to pay tolls on many highways or the
SpeedPass key chain wand used to buy gas at Exxon Mobile Corporation
This is already a reality in Japan, where NTT DoCoMo Inc says
three million cellphone subscribers use its Mobile Wallet
service to buy things at 20,000 stores and vending machines.
Similar services may be on the way in the United States and
Europe. MasterCard International Inc has been testing phone-based
versions of its PayPass contactless payment technology since
2003, and may conduct a significant market trial next year.
But there also are more ambitious visions brewing that contemplate
the cell phone as a new focal point for managing your personal
The phone would supplant not only credit and debit cards,
but wallets, checkbooks, Web sites, computer programs like
Quicken, and online bill payment services such as PayPal or
While the mightiest players in Western banking have yet to
embrace that notion, and some are dubious of the appeal, the
concept has drawn interest in other regions and may get a
tryout here soon.
A small technology company named C-Sam Inc recently succeeded
in launching its OneWallet cellphone platform with corporations
in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India and Japan.
Executives for the Chicago-based company assert theyre
about to sign on one of the biggest US banks and one of the
issuers of store-brand credit cards to conduct trials of the
platform, which can be used to manage a variety of accounts
and transactions from a cellphone.
In the United Arab Emirates, OneWallet is being marketed by
UAE Exchange as a convenience to that nations huge work
force of expatriates from India who regularly wire money home.
So far, there are about 400 users.
Alphonso Francis, a Bombay native who works for UAE Exchange
in Dubai, sends money three times a month to his family in
The process usually is a drag. I have to spend one-and-a-half
hours in traffic, pay for my parking, and then spend another
one-and-half hours in traffic... all just to make a transaction
which takes only two minutes at the transfer house,
Now, using OneWallet on his phone, he enters his PIN number,
designates which account the funds should come from, the recipient
and whether it should go to a bank account or a Western Union-type
outlet in India. The order is transmitted over the cellphones
Internet connection in seconds.
Despite the logic of tying all your financial dealings to
a device that many people keep by their side at all times,
major credit card companies dont see the phone as a
convenient nerve centre for managing finances. The card companies
main goal is to drive more spendingand card transaction
feesby making the phone a quick way to pay with a single
benefits of having a wallet on your phone with multiple cards
are overblown, said Murdo Munro, a MasterCard executive
involved with PayPass. If a consumer has to boot up
an application on the phone, and then go through four or five
menus, and then choose a card to make a payment, that's an
awful lot slower and less convenient than just taking a card
out of your wallet.
The PayPass system aims to improve even on that step. A credit
card number is embedded in a chip that is activated by waving
it in front of a reader, ringing up a sale quicker than handing
plastic to a merchant or swiping it.