Research in Motion Ltd. received a significant stamp of approval for its software from Visa Inc.
Visa has approved Waterloo, Ontario-based RiM's secure element manager software for Near Field Communication mobile payments, thus enabling telecommunications carriers to secure payment data from Visa issuers on BlackBerry phones and other NFC devices, the companies announced Jan. 16.
In Canada, a joint venture called EnStream LP bolstered RiM's mobile payments portfolio last fall when declaring it would use the company's secure element manager in a "suretap" mobile payments program. Canadian telcos Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. are behind the EnStream project.
Visa's certification "is a key step moving forward," says Geoffrey MacGillivray, senior product manager of NFC for RiM.
"We have long viewed the smartphone as a vehicle for integrating the functionalities of those things that consumers carry on their person," MacGillivray says. "A wallet and keys are two that we want to facilitate into our plans."
The secure element manager, not to be confused with a secure element chip in the phone handset, operates as backend software for a carrier to securely manage credentials on SIM cards installed in all types of NFC-capable mobile devices, MacGillivray says.
"When you move the personalization of plastic cards into mobile devices, you may have multiple cards on a secure element, and that's what a full mobile wallet implies," MacGillivray says. "You need access in a secure fashion for the various entities, mostly banks, that need keys to have access."
The secure element manager can best be visualized as a landlord in an apartment building, MacGillivray says.
"Everyone has their own individual keys, but the landlord has keys to all of the rooms," he says.
Visa's announcement last week approving BlackBerry handsets for use of the card network's payWave contactless system was vital for RiM, MacGillivray says.
"You need approved handsets to advance mobile payments," he says.
Industry analysts have speculated that, in order to get BlackBerry devices top-of-mind for consumers again, RiM needs to emphasize its use of NFC.
Research in Motion has long been a leader in NFC, and its recent support from the Canadian telcos boosts the company's mobile payment momentum, says David Kaminsky, analyst for emerging payments with Mercator Advisory Group.
Whether that will help RiM in discussions with the U.S. telcos remains to be seen, Kaminsky says.
"BlackBerry has its own operating system, but they are not a mobile network operator," Kaminsky says. "It's a complex issue and RiM may have the same troubles as Google."
Verizon Wireless, one of the carriers behind the Isis mobile wallet, has resisted supporting Google's mobile wallet on its network's handsets.
MacGillivray says that even though RiM does not currently supply the secure element manager for the Isis project in the U.S., it is working with the joint venture to include the Isis Mobile Wallet on BlackBerry handsets.