contactless payment

Disrupting The Contactless Payment Technology in 2017

The last few years have seen a sharp rise in contactless payment technology. From the number of banks installing contactless chips in their debit and credit cards to places accepting such payments, there is no doubt the method has entered the mainstream. Contactless technology itself was first developed over one hundred years ago when Nikola Tesla patented the term ‘teleautomaton’ by demonstrating the first ever radio controlled device.

This was a remote control boat used on water but since then the technology has advanced to be used for a large array of purposes. During the First World War it was used to deploy torpedoes, in the 1920s the first electric operated garage doors appeared, in the 1950s television remote controls were introduced, right up to 2007 when the UK’s first contactless credit card was trialled.

That trial was a success and now contactless payment technology is starting to change the world for everyone, from consumers to shopkeepers. But is it for the better?

How Contactless Payment Technology Works

how contactless payment technology works

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The base of the technology behind contactless devices is the same, whether you’re paying using a card, phone, bracelet or any other item. Contactless cards contain an antenna that securely transmits purchase information to and from the terminal when it is touched against or swiped very closely above it.

There are a few different enabling technologies which can be found in various contactless payment devices. Near field communication (NFC) uses a wireless link between two chips, one in the terminal and the other in your device, which transfers data between the two when a few centimetres away from each other. Quick response (QR) codes are occasionally used while many have radio frequency identification (RFID) technology which does not require to be in direct line of sight, unlike QR codes. For consumers it is a simple matter of tapping or swiping the device and payment being received.

Contactless Payment Systems

Various different systems have been developed in the past decade or two to turn contactless payments into a reality. The majority of shops, restaurants and bars all have the newest designed chip and pin machines which include contactless technology so customers can pay quickly and easily. Read more about contactless chip and pin machines.

Nearly every bank and building society has introduced contactless chips into their new cards which are compatible with chip and pin machines around the world. However, to make things even more convenient a number of companies are developing their own innovative ways to make paying on the go incredibly fast, simple and secure.

1. Apple Pay

As one of, if not the, leading technology company in the world, it’s no surprise that Apple have been one of the first to jump on the contactless payment bandwagon. Apple Pay uses the information from the user’s credit, store and reward cards with an iPhone or Apple Watch without storing the card details on each device. Instead the user logs onto Apple Pay in various ways and a unique number is assigned for each purchase for added security.

An NFC antenna is installed in every new iPhone 6 and 6s which makes it compatible with chip and pin machines. Simply holding the Touch ID near a contactless reader authorises payment. An Apple Watch requires just a double click of the side button and holding the display up to the reader, with a beep confirming payment was sent.

2. Google Wallet

One of the world’s other largest technology firms, Google have developed their Google Wallet to compete with Apple. It works in much the same way, by using NFC to complete payments and can be used with a number of different mobile phones including HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung devices. It can also be used with certain Asus and Samsung Nexus tablets. The service works with hundreds of thousands of MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave systems around the world.

With Google Wallet users can also send money for free online, through Gmail and mobile devices, whether making a payment or transferring to a friend. Google Wallet has also merged with a few other companies and developed Android Pay, effectively the same system but on all Android devices as a competitor to Apple Pay.

3. bPay

Barclaycard were the first bank to trial and introduce contactless credit cards and have continued to make further steps with bPay. This is a pre-paid account which links to a lot of major credit and debit cards with payments made using any of the bPay devices available.

The bPay family features three devices, a wristband, key fob and sticker. Each one makes the most of NFC and can be used at all locations which have contactless payment facilities. Stickers can be placed on the back of your phone or wallet to act in a similar way to Apple Pay, though they can be linked to bank cards from other banks besides Barclays. The bPay app links to each device for tracking spending and allowing users to top up on the go.

Contactless Payment Products

contactless payment products

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Aside from the standard contactless credit and debit cards there are now a lot of other products which can be used for making contactless payments.

1. Mobile Phones

The latest Apple iPhones (6 and 6s) all come Apple Pay ready, while Android Pay is the same for many devices in that range. Using a mobile phone to make payments is a quick option, as many people already have them in their hand when getting to a checkout or restaurant till. Apps can be downloaded to accurately track spending and provide any other details and settings regarding using the technology. Not everywhere has Apple Pay facilities, although it is becoming more and more common.

2. Smart Watches

The Apple Watch was one of the most hyped new technological introductions for 2015. Three different models are available including the standard version costing around £300 to an 18k gold edition for a staggering £13,500. Over 7 million have been shipped with more than 3,500 apps available. It is a portable payment device, linking to an iPhone where credit and debit cards can be added while verifying identity, then used in places that have Apple Pay.

It is not the only smart watch to offer contactless payment though. Samsung are hoping that their Gear S2 will be the launch pad for Samsung Pay, essentially Apple Pay but which connects to Android devices (though an iOS version is due in the near future). Previous Samsung smart watches exist but this is the best yet and the first to incorporate contactless payment.

In 2016 the Sony Wena is due to launch in Japan too, compatible with the country’s standard contactless payment system FeliCa. It is incredibly stylish and the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. If it’s a hit then hopefully it will become available elsewhere.

Relevant: The 4 Best Smartwatches for Under £100

4. Contactless Payment Stickers

For those with an older mobile phone who aren’t willing to upgrade to the new iPhone 6 yet, or fork out for a smart watch just for the contactless payment, stickers or pay tags are the ideal solution. These aren’t available from every bank yet but they are sure to be in the next year or two to perfectly compliment or replace contactless cards. Barclaycard are introducing a range of bPay chipped stickers which don’t ruin the appearance of users’ phones, bracelets or other items and can be used with most contactless readers in the UK.

Simply stick one on the back of your phone and where there’s a contactless symbol place it within 4cm of the reader to quickly make a payment, the green light confirming it. If the sticker gets lost or stolen the user has the same rights to be protected against fraudulent activity if a card is lost. So it can be cancelled as soon as there is a problem.

5. Wearable Technology

One of the next big moves in fashion appears to be the incorporation of technology into clothing designs. From the rich and famous being able to directly pay for clothes on the catwalk by going up top models and using contactless devices, to high street retailers stocking specially designed garments, wearable technology is on the rise. Much of it is ideal for contactless payments too.

Relevant: Best Smart Clothing – A Look at Smart Fabrics 2015

6. Bracelets and Bands

Fitbits and similar healthy bracelets have become incredibly trendy in recent years and many have undergone further developments, with the Jawbone UP4 incorporating mobile payment capabilities. Only available in the USA so far, at certain retailers it can be used for American Express payments.

A cheaper option is a bPay band which, despite being developed by Barclays, can be registered with cards from any bank. The cheaper price does mean that making contactless payments is all it does. While the Nymi band is a more exclusive product in development that monitors heart rates to verify each user for extreme security.

7. Rings

For a smaller option a contactless ring is being developed after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The Kerv requires no charging, pairing with a smartphone and can be turned on or off, have restrictions and notifications set through the app. Waterproof and available in different sizes and colours makes it appropriate for many.

Relevant: The Best Smart Rings – Ringly, DOI SmartRing and More

8. Jackets

If you’re not a jewellery kind of person then Lyle & Scott’s collaboration with bPay may be of more interest. They’ve designed a jacket that has the same chip used in contactless cards inserted into the right sleeve cuff. It’s harder to lose and a quality garment, available in two colours, though a women’s version is not yet on offer.

Contactless Payment Availability in the UK

contactless payment wearable technology

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Apple Pay only launched in the UK in July 2015 so using this method is more limited than common contactless card payment, which is possible in over 300,000 retailers across the nation. Even though contactless payment terminals can technically process such transactions not all retailers choose to do so and not all banks support Apple Pay. However, many places now display an Apple Pay sticker and usage is sure to increase in the coming years.

Android Pay, Google Wallet’s version, is yet to have a confirmed UK release date. Instead it has been beaten by Barclaycard, whose updated app available on Android devices allows users to make contactless payments using their mobile. Their stickers, key fobs and wrist bands for bPay are readily available too. Fashionable stickers are also on sale in Topshop now, released just in time for Christmas, while most smart watches and wearable technology are supported by the same payment terminals that deal with regular contactless cards.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Contactless Payments

The rise in popularity of contactless payments demonstrates they have won over a lot of people yet there are still many sceptics.

Quick and Convenient

The main advantage is that contactless payments make paying and waiting in line that bit quicker. There should be no more (or at least a lot less) standing around, waiting for people to remember their PIN or fumble around finding their wallets.


As shown by the numerous pieces of wearable technology, contactless payment chips are providing many opportunities for innovation. The increasing reliance on technology and the small size of the chips means there are a wide range of ways people can experiment with and develop brand new, useful products.


The main worry for users of contactless payment devices is that of security. Surely anyone could pick up a card, phone, bracelet or other item, take it down the shops and scan away? Each device has a limit, which recently increased to be set at £30 (more information of which is available here) to combat large scale fraud. They can also be cancelled in the same way as regular bank cards.

Relevant: Wearables IoT – Security, Privacy and Safety Concerns


Around 300,000 outlets in the UK currently cater for contactless payments but there is still a long way to go before every shop, restaurant, bar, petrol station etc. has the right facilities. In small towns and villages it could take longer to catch on, especially where the facilities are not available so investing in such technology can prove futile at first.

Increase in Contactless Payment Technologies

Increase in Contactless Payment Technologies

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There has been a huge increase in the use of contactless payment, with £2.5 billion spent during the first half of 2015, eclipsing the £2.32 billion spent in the entirety of 2014. This was reflected in September’s increase of the maximum spending allowance being upped from £20 to £30.

Why the Sudden Increase?

The sheer convenience and more widespread installation of contactless chip readers along with a tiny fraud percentage (around 1p for every £100 spent) has seen a boom in contactless payments. With almost every bank offering contactless cards, many new and replacement ones including the contactless chip whether it’s used or not, there is no escaping the phenomenon.

When paying for anything the server now usually asks whether you want to pay via contactless. This has helped increase awareness among consumers and build trust by seeing others successfully and safely using it. Monthly contactless payments are continuing to grow, with it reaching a near 200% increase over the year, putting it on track to eventually overtake standard swipe payments.

The Future

Along with becoming the main way to pay for offline products and services, contactless payment technology will continue to innovate and provide more convenient options. Already one American company is working on (and has been for the past ten years or so) injectable microchips for humans. These are designed to be the ultimate fraud-proof solution for cash and credit card transactions.

In a similar vein RIFD chip implantation is being considered as the next step for contactless payment. While these will make payments quicker, easier and on the whole more secure, there are risks. They will be just as susceptible to viruses and raise ethical questions regarding privacy, so weighing up which is more advantageous isn’t that straightforward.

Whatever the future holds, in the here and now contactless payment is changing the way we live our daily lives, for the most part for the better.

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