What better venue than the Olympic Games to showcase the latest in payments trends? Or, better put, what better place to showcase a payments trend that is groping for consumer exposure and acceptance?

Industry analyst Todd Ablowitz, president of Centennial, Colo.-based Double Diamond Group LLC, sums up the Olympics and payments well: “The Olympics have always been a showcase for [sponsor] Visa,” he tells PaymentsSource. “That’s the place where you always see what Visa thinks is hot and what is important to see.”

Visa Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. believe they have something important to show, following up on last summer’s announcement that the companies would provide athletes and Olympics VIPs with Olympic-branded Samsung phones loaded with mobile-payments software for use at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games (see story).

The companies announced Feb. 24 they plan to provide a sneak preview of what they are calling the Olympics’ “official mobile-payment application” from Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Based on Visa’s payWave chip, the mobile-payment application enables contactless payments at the point of sale, allows the consumer to wave the Near Field Communication-enabled Samsung mobile phone in front of a contactless reader at the point of purchase to initiate a payment.

NFC-enabled phones support two-way communication with other NFC chips, enabling consumers, for example, to upload discount coupons or tickets at the point of sale. Visa could not confirm whether merchants in the Olympic venues intended to provide such offers.

When making a purchase of more than £15 (US$23), the consumer must use a PIN, Visa stated in a press release. The application also allows customers to check their transaction history and view up-to-date account balances.

Olympics visitors will not have access to the Visa-Samsung phones, but they can complete contactless payments with any NFC-enabled phones or Visa payWave cards at the more than 3,000 contactless terminals at the Olympic Games venues, a Visa spokesperson tells PaymentsSource.

What the new mobile application means in terms of how Visa intends to develop its V.me mobile wallet or involvement with Google Inc.’s Google Wallet at the London Olympics remains to be seen (see story).

Ablowitz suggests there isn’t much more to read into the mobile application unveiling other than Visa knows a contactless future is coming quickly.

“Visa uses the Olympics to set the stage for what Visa wants to do in the future,” Ablowitz says. “Probably the most important thing here is that more people will see that Near Field Communication is real.”

The more often consumers see contactless mobile-phone payment used, the more often the payments industry will see commercial launches, meaning more availability for consumers, Ablowitz contends.

Visa Inc., Visa Europe and Seoul, South Korea-based Samsung are involved in the mobile payment joint effort at the Olympic Games.

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