Friday, February 18, 2011

Orange Money Launches NFC Credit Card, Still Years Behind Africa

According to el reg, Orange is launching a new service, under the name "Orange Cash". I must admit to being a bit disappointed when I read the article though - it turns out this is just a pre-paid card (the article calls it a credit card, but that's stretching a definition since it is pre-paid!) with NFC (near field communications). While this is fun tech - Pete, a sysadmin here at Smoothwall Leeds described his first NFC shopping experience as "the simplest shopping I ever did" - it is hardly revolutionary. Indeed many people will already have NFC cards if they've recently been issued a new debit card.
So, what was I expecting? Well, being a regular visitor to Kenya, I noticed in december there were adverts all over Nairobi for Orange's "iko pesa" ("there's money" in kiswahili) service - a rival to local operation "mpesa" by Safaricom. Mpesa and iko both allow users to easily transfer money using mobile phones. I can see why this might be more useful to Kenyans than it would be in the UK - there's relatively little in the way of "infrastructure", especially outside of Nairobi, and many people have little ready access to cash, so this is a great way to pay for things, or send some cash home. On the other hand, i'd really find this useful in the UK - just for paying small sums to friends and family. Yes, I know I can access internet banking, but I might not have their details (how may of your colleagues do you have bank details for?) - so if I find myself owing Carol a fiver for a box of noodles at lunchtime, I either mess about with internet banking, or take a stroll to the ATM. If I already have her phone number, I could simply send her mpesa... much better, no?
Both these technologies raise interesting questions for security. NFC type devices are now used for opening car doors and allowing the engine to be started. We recently saw articles (see yahoo)suggesting that thieves might "range extend" proximity keyfobs to break into cars. It would be interesting to know if this could be done to NFC cards, but it seems a lot of work for transactions which are limited to a relatively small sum. I've not yet heard of any interesting mpesa fraud - although allegedly you can pay kenyan police bribes with it!

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