As InComm takes the platform it developed for Rogers Communications' suretap mobile wallet to new regions, it's mindful that the system should adapt to the needs of each market.
"There are multiple digital payment form factors, so we're not restricting ourselves to NFC [Near Field Communication] or QR codes or any of those," says Jeff Lewis, general manager of the financial services division for InComm.
Toronto-based Rogers' suretap wallet is an NFC-based system supported by CIBC and MasterCard, and InComm plans to sell the underlying InComm Mobile Platform (IMP) to other mobile payments providers. InComm specializes in prepaid card products, but IMP can be configured for debit or credit cards, Lewis says.
IMP enables switching, card provisioning, reloads, buying and selling cards, billing, reconciliation and customer analytics. To encourage flexibility, InComm will support technologies such as Host Card Emulation, beacons and other emerging models
"We'll see clear technology leaders come out in different countries based on what the merchants want to do," Lewis says.
InComm's emphasis on Canada has allowed it to rely heavily on NFC, a technology used by most of the country's mobile payments initiatives to enable contactless payments. Desjardins, Bank of Montreal and the national debit association Interac all use NFC.
Companies in other countries have been less predictable, Lewis says.
"While NFC [Near Field Communication] is good for Canada because there are a lot of NFC payments terminals deployed, it may be bar codes or another technology that hasn't even emerged yet," Lewis says.
PayPal, LevelUp and the Merchant Customer Exchange are among the U.S.-based digital wallet providers that have chosen a software-based approach.
PayPal also uses beacons, which are Bluetooth Low Energy devices that communicate with a mobile app over longer ranges than NFC supports. Patrick Gauthier, PayPal's head of emerging services, recently predicted beacons would have a larger impact on the payments industry than EMV-chip cards.
Host Card Emulation, or HCE, has quickly grown as a popular alternative to NFC because it enables contactless mobile payments from a phone without using the handset's secure element, which is traditionally guarded by carriers. Google, Visa and MasterCard are among the most outspoken supporters of HCE.
"The provisioning of user credentials and the form factor that is used to facilitate the payment can be any number of things, and our platform is taking account of that," Lewis says.
InComm expects its platform will appeal to EMV markets such as the U.K. and other European countries.
"The underlying credential in the chip and the phone behave in the same way. Going to a reader from a chip card is the next logical step," Lewis says.
Mobile payments companies need to embrace different technologies, particularly since NFC is still far from ubiquitous, says Jordan McKee, a senior analyst at Yankee Group.
Less than one in four mobile phone owners has an NFC-enabled device, McKee says. Notably, Apple has never made an NFC version of its popular iPhone.
"On the other end of the spectrum is merchant adoption. NFC has not been embraced by merchants with open arms largely due to the cost of reterminalization," McKee says.
The U.S. migration to EMV-chip cards, for which the card networks set a deadline of October 2015, will help spread NFC acceptance because merchants will have to buy new terminals, "but we must remember that this will not be a light switch event," McKee says. "It's unrealistic to think that all merchants will have dual-interface terminals by October 2015."