Visa to Test Wearable Payments at Rio Olympics

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In what could bring major visibility to the emerging market for wearable payments, Visa today unveiled an NFC-enabled piece of jewelry it’s giving to 45 Olympic athletes on Team Visa.

The water-resistant ring requires no battery or charging and uses the Visa Token Service, making it the first tokenized payment ring, Visa said in a June 2 press release.

The exclusive payments sponsor for the Olympic Games this summer in Brazil, Visa has set up 4,000 NFC-enabled payment terminals in and around the Olympic Village and nearby stores. Olympic diver Missy Franklin will wear the ring “to go from a competition to purchase without having to carry a wallet or card,” she said in the release.

It’s far from the first time Visa has used the Olympics to showcase its technology. Four years ago at the London Games, Visa promoted contactless payments with 3,000 NFC-enabled terminals and demonstrated a mobile wallet it developed with Samsung for the event.

Visa’s NFC ring, designed by McLear & Co., contains a built-in secure chip manufactured by Gemalto and is only one of several wearables that aim to make a splash this summer.

Kerv, another NFC ring that’s been in development in the U.K. over the last year, is nearing rollout following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year.

Kerv founder Phil Campbell contends that earlier NFC-based payment concepts missed the mark by putting technology first, whereas Kerv puts the user first, he said in a statement.

“The underlying philosophy [for wearables] always has to be to put the user first and think about what they really want to achieve,” Campbell said, describing the genesis of Kerv.

Wearable payments are still very much in flux.

Fitbit, one of the first smartwatches widely available to track users’ activity, saw its features upstaged last year when the Apple Watch launched, with its ability to track activity and progress and make NFC payments.

Last month, Fitbit closed the gap by acquiring the assets of Coin, a payments company that MasterCard said it’s still backing for its own array of wearables.

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