Spain has been having a rough time economically over the past few years. After almost 15 years of growth, GDP contracted by 3.7% in 2009. Since then, it has fought hard to bounce back, and in 2011 it finally emerged from recession and achieved a GDP per capita of US$30,600. Its large budget deficit and poor economic growth has made it vulnerable to financial contagion from other highly indebted euro zone members. However, in spite of its woes, the country has continued to take significant strides in the contactless sector.
It has a population with a median age of 40.5. In 2010, there were 19.904 million landlines in the country and 51.493 million cellular phones plus 28.119 million internet users.
Spain is actually home to some of the most ambitious contactless and NFC projects. As the home of the GSMA Mobile World Congress, the city of Barcelona has long been a big fan of all things mobile. Its importance in the world of mobile and contactless technology was confirmed last July when it was selected to be the Mobile World Capital from 2012 to 2018. This means it will get the chance to develop a range of schemes and activities that will benefit not only its citizens, but also the mobile industry worldwide.
While the Catalan capital remains a key location for contactless and NFC, the technology is spreading throughout the country, thanks to numerous projects that were rolled out in 2011.
Just down the coast from Barcelona lies the uber-trendy Mediterranean resort of Sitges, where contactless has made a real impact. Last year it was the testbed for a cell phone payment pilot by Visa Europe, Telefónica and la Caixa bank involving 1,500 users and 500 merchants. During the trial most of the purchases were made at supermarkets (57%) and restaurants (14%), and the average age of users was 46. With 90% of users saying they would continue to use their cell for everyday payments, the stakeholders opted to keep the scheme operating in the town.
Commitment to contactless is really growing nationwide. La Caixa deployed the world’s first contactless ATMs in towns and cities across Catalonia, including Barcelona and Sitges, as well as the Balearic Islands. These enable customers with contactless credit and debit cards as well as NFC phones to withdraw money after entering their PINs. This could represent a significant opportunity if La Caixa extends the rollout across Spain: it has the largest cash machine network in the country with 8,000 ATMs. The bank is a huge contactless enthusiast having also issued 130,000 Visa-branded contactless cards to customers in the Balearics and announced plans to install contactless POS terminals at 5,000 locations across the islands. In addition it is set to roll out contactless cards and terminals across the country to service the users of its 10.2 million payments cards.
Telefónica – the world’s third largest cell operator and Spain’s number one – has been a fan of contactless and NFC for some time, driving innovation and deployments across the country and further afield. During the year it equipped 1,000 employees at its Madrid headquarters with NFC phones in a program it billed as ‘the first real NFC experience in Europe’. The scheme enables employees to make contactless payments at retail outlets at the office complex and pay for meals at on-site catering facilities. Additionally, the devices can be used for office access control at the headquarters. A number of partners are involved including BBVA, Bankinter and La Caixa banks, Samsung, Visa, and POS terminal provider Sermepa. Telefónica initially had ambitions to eventually roll it out to 12,500 employees, but this aim has not yet been realized.
The telecoms giant also partnered with Research in Motion (RIM) to develop and launch the TelefónicaWallet. This contactless mobile payments pilot based on NFC-enabled BlackBerry smartphones was trialed with 350 employees at its headquarters in Spain. The phones replaced physical wallets and could be used for payment, ID and access control. The project also involved La Caixa and Visa payWave.
Another big European telecoms player announced its NFC plans for Spain last year. Orange said it was going to start providing users throughout the country with Samsung’s new NFC-enabled Wave 578. It also signed a deal with Telefónica and the Spanish offices of Vodafone to cooperate on standards and the interoperability of NFC services in areas such as payment and ticketing – although the agreement doesn’t extend as far as working together to roll out services.