Google looks to breathe life into Wallet with Softcard buy

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Google has bought Softcard, the mobile payment joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon, as it looks to revamp its offering.

A new look Google Wallet, with NFC-powered contactless payments, will come pre-installed on Android phones running KitKat and higher, which are sold by the three US carriers, later this year.

Google first launched its Wallet in 2011 but it never was available outside of the US. It was relaunched several times as the company tried to find a compelling m-payments proposition.

In a blog posting announcing the acquisition, Ariel Bardin, Vice-President of Payments, commented: "We’ve continued investing [in Google Wallet] to make it easy and secure for more people to pay with their phones. A big part of this is working with other innovators in the industry to help provide a seamless experience across a wide range of phones and stores."

Bardin said the purchase of Softcard's technology and intellectual property would help improve the features of the Wallet.

Softcard was established in 2010 as Isis, with the joint venture changing its name last year to avoid confusion with the terrorist group of the same name. It offered NFC payments via the secure element of the SIM card and launched in late 2013.

A spokesperson for the joint venture said: "Today’s announcement is a positive step forward for the mobile payments industry and wireless consumers."

Google's move could be seen as a defensive act because of recent manoeuvring from rivals Apple and Samsung. Apple Pay was launched last year as a feature of the current generation of iPhones. It offers contactless payments, with the NFC antenna built directly into the handset.

Last week, Samsung said it had bought the digital wallet platform LoopPay, which has software that can transform point of sale card terminals into contactless receivers.

Commenting on the Google acquisition, eMarketer analyst Bryan Yeager said: "Google's new deal with Softcard and three major US mobile carriers will help get Google Wallet in front of more potential users, but the mobile payments space in the US will continue to be competitive and fragmented for at least the next few years as various stakeholders vie to get traction with consumers."

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