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Rogers boosts smartphone offerings in mobile-payment push

Visa digital wallet technology is seen in this Visa ad.


Canada's largest wireless carrier is deepening its push into the nascent market for mobile payments.

Rogers Communications Inc. said Wednesday it is offering a broader array of smartphones that consumers can use, instead of plastic credit cards, to pay at tens of thousands of equipped cash registers across Canada.

The Toronto-based carrier has expanded its "suretap" service, which enables the storage of information for payment cards and rewards-points programs on secure SIM cards, to Android and BlackBerry 10 devices.

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Its lineup of mobile-payment ready devices now includes the LG Optimus G; Samsung Galaxy S III and Note II models, along with BlackBerry models including the new Z10, Bold 9900, Curve 9360 and Bold 9790.

Those smartphones are enabled for so-called near-field communications (NFC) – meaning they can emit a signal to contactless payment terminals that reside at cash registers. (Consumers are already in the habit of using those contactless terminals to make low-amount credit card payments with MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave at retailers such as quick-serve restaurants.)

"To continue driving adoption and growth of mobile payments in Canada, it is essential that a strong ecosystem is established to include multiple devices, operating systems and payment networks," said Jeppe Dorff, vice-president of transaction services at Rogers, in a release.

"We know our customers have strong affinity to the Android platform and we are thrilled to include Android devices amongst smartphones ready to support mobile payment applications built for suretap."

Krista Napier, senior analyst for mobility at consultancy firm IDC Canada, said the Android operating system has become increasingly popular in North America, noting it now claims the "largest share" of new smartphone shipments in Canada.

"Because of Android's market presence, and Canadians' growing usage of smartphones for many of their daily activities, there is growth potential for mobile payment solutions being offered to Canadians on the Android platform," she said.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which has a mobile payments agreement with Rogers, is developing an app to enable those transactions on Android devices, said Todd Roberts, senior vice-president of business innovation and growth at CIBC.

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Rogers, which has more than nine million wireless subscribers, became the first telecom to announce a digital wallet partnership with a major bank last May. At the time, the carrier said it had about 300,000 customers with NFC-enabled phones but estimated that number would grow to 750,000 in 2013.

In its release on Wednesday, Rogers noted "tens of thousands of suretap SIM cards are in market and hundreds of thousands of suretap mobile payment –ready devices are being used by Canadians."

There was no word, however, on when Rogers' iPhone customers would be able to use mobile payments. Rogers, which has the largest iPhone subscriber base in Canada, issued a statement saying "Apple does not offer a model of the iPhone with NFC capability, so at this time there are no immediate plans to add the iPhone as a suretap ready device."

Other wireless carriers, meanwhile, are in the process of securing their own mobile payments partnerships with Canadian banks.

"Mobile payments have been cited as the next "big thing" on the horizon, evidenced by the size and breadth of the players getting into the game, including electronic payment providers, financial institutions and wireless operators, as well as some of the largest online players, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon," wrote Drew McReynolds, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities Inc., in a recent research note to clients.

"Although the stakes are rising and we do not dispute that mobile payments are poised to explode, representing a significant growth opportunity for the winners in what is becoming a very crowded arena, we see mobile payments as ground zero for innovation that is much bigger."

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