Phone operators look to replace credit cards

AT&T and Verizon are following the lead of overseas operators and introducing a wireless electronic payment system.

According to Bloomberg, they plan to partner with T-Mobile USA and are in talks with Discover Financial Services and UK bank Barclays, over a scheme to let customers pay at the till with a wireless swipe system based on RFID or similar technology.

Similar schemes operate in many countries worldwide, including Japan, Scandinavian countries, the UK and Canada – but uptake in the world’s biggest market could really help the technology take off.

Phones are equipped with a near Field Communication chip – costing about $10 – which sends a wireless signal to the retailer’s reader, which costs around $200. US phones are currently not equipped with the chips.

The group plans to test the system in four US cities over the next year. Purchases can be made with a wave of a smartphone, and will be processed through Discover’s network. The actual payment will likely be made through the customer’s cellphone bill.

Similar systems are claimed to be a good deal faster than using a plastic card. They’re also claimed to be at least as secure: the RFID tag can be shut down remotely in the event of the phone being stolen.

The companies won’t confirm the plans.

The service could represent a threat to Visa, Mastercard and American Express – by far the largest payment networks in the world. Discovery currently ranks fourth.

Mastercard and Visa have previously attempted to market similar systems, with the chip embedded in a phone case.