The etisalat stand at Gitex. Etisalat’s new near field communications (NFC) electronic payment services will allow users to put away their plastic debit and credit cards and tap away on their mobile phones in the UAE to buy things. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

Dubai: Out of cash in the queue at the coffee shop?

Don't worry, there's an app for that — etisalat's new cashless payment service using your mobile smartphone.

Paying for a coffee, buying a new shirt or taking the Dubai Metro will never be the same again following a major rollout by etisalat yesterday of its new near field communications (NFC) electronic payment services.

Similar to Bluetooth but at close range, NFC phones enabled with MasterCard PayPass and loaded with pre-paid cash cards will allow users to put away their plastic debit and credit cards and tap away on their mobile phones in the UAE to buy things.

With a new secure Sim card installed under the new program, new NFC-enabled smartphones are the new wallet of tomorrow.

"You don't need to carry with you a portfolio of plastic cards," said George Held, etisalat group products and services director group marketing, who led a media demonstration of the new services yesterday at Gitex.

Etisalat's cashless payment system will go live by the end of the year, he said, and consumers will pay no transaction fees.

Yesterday's launch comes after months of testing the NFC technology at hundreds of outlets across the country in partnership with Emirates NBD.

Brands such as Costa Coffee, Burger King and Seattle's Best Coffee have already signed up for the cashless system. Etisalat is also in talks with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to allow NFC phone users to tap their way on to public transit such as the Dubai Metro.

First to try

Gulf News was the first to try the new technology at the Zabeel Bistro café at the Dubai International Conference and Exhibition Centre yesterday. Using the BlackBerry Bold 9900, a pin number was entered and the phone was placed over the terminal.

An SMS was immediately sent to the phone confirming the transaction for the purchase of a coffee. The SMS alert also provided the remaining balance of cash that was uploaded into the pre-paid etisalat Sim card.

In time, the new cashless system, in partnership with the UAE Central Bank and commercial banks across the country, will link NFC smartphones directly to savings and chequing accounts in a debit-card fashion.

The new cashless system is in partnership with Network International, Oberthur Technologies and Research in Motion (RIM).

Ram Chari, CEO Network International, told Gulf News, "Speedy turn-around of payment transactions is critical today with the increasing focus on fast-paced communications across the region."

Samer Soliman, vice-president and head of processing for Network International, said there are 35,000 point-of-sale terminals in the UAE but for now only 600 outlets have been equipped with NFC technology to conduct phone transactions.

"We are planning to have another 600 outlets in the next six months," he said.

Thierry Siminger, managing director of RMEA, Card Systems Divisions at Oberthur Technologies, noted that "the heart of the technology is within the Sim, the secure element, and is fulfilled by an open standard technology to allow all banks and a broad range of service providers to connect to a secure and interoperable platform."

Business interest

Held, meanwhile, said the service when up and running will be capped to $50 (Dh183) maximum per purchase via NFC phone.

When etisalat announces the actual live date for the new cashless system in the UAE, Held said old and new owners of NFC phones across the spectrum from Nokia and BlackBerry will simply be asked to swap their Sim cards for new ones.

Held wouldn't disclose how much money etisalat would make from each transaction but he did say that "all partners in the ecosystem have a certain business interest."

Vendors will be charged a small fee per NFC purchase.

Philip Yen, group head of Emerging Markets APMEA for MasterCard, confirmed that there are 341,000 point-of-sale terminals around the world already using the company's PayPass.