BARCELONA, Spain--Samsung's next flagship smartphone will play a key role in Visa's mobile payment ambitions.
The two companies unveiled a partnership today in which Samsung would incorporate Visa's PayWave mobile payment applet in its future devices, as well as use Visa to make it easier for customers to tie their Samsung phones to a financial institution and Visa account.
While not referenced specifically, the upcoming Galaxy S4 will be the flagship product for Visa's program, according to a person familiar with the partnership.
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Samsung will be part of the Visa Ready Partner Program, which was announced Friday. The program is designed to speed the approval and licensing of Visa-endorsed payment systems on different devices, including smartphones.Visa has spent the last few years building out its own digital wallet, one of many players attempting to jump-start the mobile payments trend. With the adoption of mobile payments -- the idea of paying for goods and services by waving your phone at a cash register -- still slow in the U.S. and other mature markets, companies have been working hard to set up the necessary infrastructure and partnerships. "It's a global alliance," Bill Gajda, head of mobile products for Visa, said in an interview. "We're looking forward to announcing more programs with Samsung." Samsung Electronics has been one of the leaders in getting the necessary connection technology, called near-field communication, or NFC, into its phones. But the Korean consumer electronics giant has been slow to address mobile payments, particularly in the U.S. "The partnership with Visa represents a step toward a global mobile payment platform," Won-Pyo Hong, head of Samsung's media solution center, said in a statement issued today. NFC is already found in credit cards and key fobs, and has increasingly trickled into smartphones built by the likes of Samsung, HTC, and BlackBerry. On the merchant side, NFC is starting to slowly trickle into point-of-sale terminals at drug stores, subway terminals, and even cabs in New York. One of the big hurdles to mobile payments has been the lack of devices that use NFC. Apple's iPhone franchise, for instance, still shuns the technology. But by getting Visa capabilities preloaded into a popular device like the next Galaxy S smartphone, the companies are helping to widen the net for potential users.
Samsung is expected to unveil the Galaxy S4 in mid-March, although the company hasn't confirmed any launch dates.There are expected to be nearly 2 billion devices that ship with NFC by 2017, according to ABI Research. In addition to Samsung, Visa also announced that mobile commerce hardware provider Roam would also join the Visa Ready Partner Program and build equipment that would work with Visa's mobile payment system. The products would bear the Visa Ready symbol. Under the partnership, Roam would get application programming interfaces and software development kits that would connect its equipment to Visa payment gateways, allowing small and large merchants to easily process transactions. Mobile payments is expected to be a big theme at this year's Mobile World Congress conference. MasterCard earlier announced its MasterPass digital payment service.