Is wave-to-pay coming to the iPhone?

March 25, 2009, 1:47 PM UTC

Almost as curious as the fact that China Unicom has started advertising Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone on its Shanghai website — even though no agreement to sell the device in China has been announced — are some of the advanced features Unicom is promoting.

As Dan Butterfield reported early Wednesday on his iPhonAsia website, these include several functions that aren’t officially available on current model iPhones, including:

  • Wave-to-pay
  • Mobile TV
  • Tethering (connecting a laptop to a cell phone’s wireless network)
  • Video conferencing

The first item — wave-to-pay — is of particular interest to Chinese customers, according to Butterfield. Visa Inc. (V) offers similar service in the United States, called Paywave, whereby cardholders can make purchases at some 32,000 retailers by waving their Visa card in front of special point-of-sale cardreaders. In Japan, half of cell phone owners — about 50 million users — carry phones that have so-called near field communications capability built-in. (link)

Will the next-generation iPhone — expected to arrive in July — also have it?

China Unicom seems to think so. Here’s how the capability is described on its Shanghai website (translation provided by iPhonAsia):

“Near-Field-Communication (NFC) swipe card handset a.k.a. “wave-to-pay,” offers convenience for those who use public transportation. It’s possible to use a handset swipe card to buy a ticket. This wave-to-pay has replaced the former public transportation IC card. Using the swipe card handset for shopping eliminates the [need to carry] cash. Using wave-to-pay also makes it easy to pay in the ferry terminal. Through the swipe card, the handset (phone) can purchase your passage and avoid the worry of lining up to purchase tickets. Not only does this technology eliminate the need to carry a public transportation IC card, you don’t even need a bankcard. All you need is the wave-to-pay handset (phone), to buy a ticket and do your shopping. One machine in the hand, opens access, and gives you control. Wave-to-pay makes life more convenient.” (link)

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