Contactless took the payments industry by storm starting with September 2007, when the Barclaycard One Plus contactless payment card was launched. More functionalities have been added ever since, and contactless payment technology has become the norm nowadays, due to immense popularity.
This article is meant to shine some light on the underlying technologies that power contactless payments.
Brief history highlights
We mentioned September 2007 but there are other important dates in the history of contactless payments that have to be mentioned as well. Data from Thames Technology lets us know that:
- In 1995, South Korea launches UPass, a contactless payment card for commuters
- 1996 marks the first EMV standard version
- In 2002, Philips and Sony partnered to develop the NFC standard
- In 2003, Mastercard launches its contactless payment cards and in 2004 Visa Asia Pacific launches its EMV-compatible smart card
- In 2011, Google Wallet alongside Android Pay enter the scene, allowing smartphones to transact for the first time
- Apple Pay was launched in 2014
- In 2015, Apple started to introduce wearable contactless technology, such as the Apple Watch
- Starting with 2020, among the pandemic’s effects, we could encounter the positive influences over digitalisation and contactless technology.
Zooming in on contactless technology
From QR codes to NFC transactions, contactless payments are based on particular contactless technologies. We will discuss them chronologically.
- Radio frequency identification (RFID): through this technology, data is transmitted via radio waves. RFID emerged in the 1980s as a way to improve barcode scanning. Consisting of an antenna, tag, and reader, the RFID system enables data transmission when a tag sends a pulse that is registered by the reader. Usually, RFID technology is used to prevent theft, track inventory or attendees, and control access.
- Near field communication (NFC): developed in the early 2000s, NFC is believed to be derived from RFID technology. As opposed to RFID, NFC uses a higher frequency and it can transmit data quicker than via RFID. However, NFC requires a shorter distance to work. Another difference is that a smartphone with NFC technology can act as both a tag and a reader. Usually, NFC is used for data transfers and mobile payments.
- Europay, Mastercard, Visa (EMV): this technology refers to the latest microchips introduced within the payment cards. Before EMV, debit or credit cards had to be swiped for data transfers. EMV emerged to improve security because a card with an EMV microchip cannot be used if stolen. Also, EMV transmits encrypted data as opposed to regular magnetic strips which are more prone to fraudulent activities. EMV’s security alongside NFC technology makes a card completely suitable for a positive contactless payment experience.
- Also, it is important to mention quick response (QR) codes: they first appeared in 1994, in Japan, to store more information than barcodes. More popular in Asia, QR codes began to be used as a payment method in 2010 and, nowadays, QR code payments make up for 1/3 of China’s payments. By scanning a QR code with a smartphone, users are prompted to access a secure link to complete their checkout experience. Typically, QR codes are used for redirecting users to various websites, storing information, or sending customers to fill in payment information terminals.