London: leaning towards contactless

St Paul's Cathedral Pinnacle and London Eye. P...

Image by J. A. Alcaide via Flickr

London is a dynamic city where contemporary culture sits comfortably alongside its rich history, traditions, pomp and pageantry. It’s a city that’s looking to the future – and contactless and NFC technologies are fast becoming an intrinsic part of the lives of the capital’s inhabitants.

The Oyster card – a popular plastic card that enables users to store travelcards, passes and railcards on it, as well as credit which they can use up as they travel –captured the imagination of the public when it was launched back in 2003. Now, it’s an essential feature of most Londoners’ wallets, sitting alongside their credit card and cell phone, allowing them to travel freely around the capital. Taking the Oyster concept a step further, rail operators such as London Midland have announced plans to trial the technology on their routes into and out of the city.

Another pilot has seen the organizers install 19 smart posters at the Blackfriars transit hub, enabling passengers to find out about connections to their final destination by bus, train and riverboat.

London has become synonymous in recent years with the O2 Wallet, which was piloted in the city between 2007 and 2008. Featuring the likes of O2, Transport for London, Barclaycard, Nokia, Visa and Transys, as well as a host of merchants such as Books Etc, Chop’d, Coffee Republic, EAT, Krispy Kreme, Threshers and YO! Sushi, participants loved this scheme, particularly how quick and easy it was to use in stores and other outlets. In addition to the five-month-long  scheme, the O2 Wallet was also used in the world’s first-ever fashion industry pilot of NFC technology at  London Fashion Week in 2008, enabling designers to instantly know which designs were likely to be the hottest sellers by getting instant feedback from buyers attending their shows.

In another application of NFC technology, Barclaycard teamed with London-based Computer Cab to reveal a Visa payWave-based contactless payments terminal that can be installed in taxis.

Not to be outdone, MasterCard has also made forays into the contactless space in London. Back in 2007, it trialled limited-edition contactless prepay cards during the British Phonographic Industry’s annual celebration of pop music, the Brit Awards

Another bank getting in on the act is Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which has rolled out contactless cards to its customers in the city. The first transaction was made by the driver of a Formula 1 racing car at a McDonald’s drive-thru in London. The launch followed a trial with its employees at its Edinburgh and London headquarters.

With the countdown to the Olympics underway, expectations are building about the contactless and NFC implementations being lined up for use in the capital in 2012. Some of the key stakeholders have played down plans for the event, but this is a space the industry is watching carefully.

In the public sector, educational institutions are starting to realize the benefits of the new technology. For example, Newham College in East London is distributing NFC phones to four teachers who will tap them to the ID cards of 120 students instead of taking a register each day. A successful trial could lead to a college-wide rollout to 300 teachers and 16,000 students.

Partners involved in contactless schemes in London include: Barclaycard, Books Etc, Chop’d, Coffee Republic, Computer Cab, Cubic, EDS, EAT, Krispy Kreme, MasterCard, McDonalds, Newham College, Nokia, O2, Oddbins, RBS, Threshers, Transport for London, Transys, Visa, YO! Sushi.

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