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Someday soon, you might use your personal digital assistant orcell phone to pay for a cab ride, buy food at a fast-food
restaurant, or purchase a soda from a vending machine without
using cash or plastic.
Andersen Consulting has developed a prototype technology called
Mobile Micropayments that, if commercialized, could let you zap
payments over wireless links without having to load a special
application onto your handheld. The technology is based on patent-pending research concepts and is designed to illustrate how consumers can purchase goods and services using an Internet
billing system via a wireless device or a mobile phone. The Mobile Micropayments prototype incorporates the existing Qpass Inc. product to handle payment and billing. Qpass is commonly used to automatically pay road tolls using a small device you affix to your windshield.
Here's how Andersen's micropayments prototype works: Imagine
you're walking past a vending machine but are out of change.
Automatically, the screen of your mobile phone or PDA lights up
with a menu of the drinks available from the machine. You then
enter your personal identification number to authenticate the
transaction and make your selection. The information is passed to
the machine, which dispenses the soda and bills your online
account. A key aspect of this technology is that you don't need to have a complex, custom application loaded on your handheld device. The vending machine or merchant device handles the processing, says Neill Cameron, Andersen Consulting's director of research incubation for Europe. The handheld is a dumb terminal that handles only payment authorization. This does away with the heavy infrastructure normally associated with wireless, he says.
Devices such as printers, cash registers, and vending machines
will soon be able to communicate seamlessly with mobile phones
that come within range, reconfiguring the display menus, options,
and offerings as needed to enable various microtransactions,
Andersen says. Andersen's prototype uses infrared signals to allow two-way communication between the cell phone and other devices. In the future, short-range radio technologies such as the emerging Bluetooth wireless standard will further expand the range of possibilities for this type of application.
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