Google Inc. could score much-needed points in the mobile-payments market if rumors prove true and the company succeeds in launching its Google Wallet application in London in time for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, one mobile-marketing expert believes.
The French newspaper Les Echos on Dec. 8 reported that Google is in talks with several UK-based banks, cell phone distributors and retailers about launching a Google Wallet pilot in London as early as the first quarter of 2012, in time to work out bugs before the Games begin in July.
Google declined to comment on the report.
The Olympics would be a great case study to show the power of mobile payments in a confined space on an international stage, says Bryon Morrison, president of the wireless practice at Dallas-based The Marketing Arm, which creates mobile marketing promotions and applications for marketers including AT&T.
If Google manages to use the Olympics to demonstrate its wallet to the general market on a large scale, it could shift the tide for NFC payments by showing people how it works and helping it take off, he suggests.
But without such a breakthrough, near field communication technology-based payment efforts like Google Wallet may fizzle, Morrison says.
The problem with NFC is that it requires an entire ecosystem in order to work, and hardware changes at both ends of a transaction, which is a vast challenge in large, fragmented markets like the U.S., he says.
Japan and the UK so far have seen greater success in some NFC-based payment efforts partly because their markets are smaller, more confined and have fewer players competing for a piece of the action, he contends.
If NFC is ever going to succeed in the U.S., some company or group is going to have to make a "very bold move," and soon, because other, simpler mobile-payment technologies may be in development that could supersede it, Morrison says.
Google Wallet launched in the U.S. in September with partners including Sprint Nextel Corp., which is making the mobile-payment service available through the Nexus S smartphone, Citigroup Inc., MasterCard Worldwide, First Data Corp. and about a few dozen merchants.
Customers may fund Google Wallet with a Citi MasterCard or a Google-branded prepaid account.
Longtime Olympics sponsor Visa Inc., American Express Co. and Discover Financial Services in September said they would also eventually be part of Google Wallet, but no timeframe for their participation is known.
But time is running out for NFC-based payments to reach fruition, Morrison contends.
Verizon Wireless this month told Google to not include its Wallet app in the new Android Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone, which Morrison says is "not positive" for broad NFC adoption.
"Just when financial institutions and certain manufacturers come on board, a major carrier pulls back … We are having trouble getting everyone to sit at the table to work together to create the ecosystem needed for it to happen," he says.