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Sound-based system promises chipless NFC now

Stephen Lawson | June 20, 2011
Naratte introduces Zoosh, a technology that lets phones exchange transaction information via inaudible sound waves.

Naratte is promoting Zoosh not as a replacement for NFC but as a system that could be implemented in the interim before NFC chips are widely available in handsets. Because it would not require additional hardware in some cases, implementing it could be as simple as writing a mobile-phone app or integrating Zoosh into existing software. Virtually any phone designed to play MP3 audio files could use Zoosh in some way, Paulson said. Naratte is making its technology available to developers now.

"It's going to be years and years and years before NFC is fully deployed for the average purchase transaction," said Russ Jones, a partner at Glenbrook Partners, a payments strategy consulting firm. Zoosh could be a third alternative for mobile payments, in addition to NFC and digital barcodes displayed on phone displays, he said. In the hands of mobile developers, its possibilities may extend far beyond payments, Jones said.

Others raised caution about the idea. The kinds of audio technology built into mobile phones may not be able to transmit and receive high-frequency signals with good enough quality to reliably carry out transactions, said analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates. Background noise also might interfere, he said. Naratte said it had tested the technology successfully in noisy environments such as cafes.

The biggest challenge for all entrants to in-person mobile payments is building an ecosystem, said analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.

"You could have the world's best NFC technology, but you need to get this embedded in handsets, and retailers have to be able to process it, and consumers have to be given a reason to use it," Greengart said.

Naratte has at least one customer so far: SparkBase, a Cleveland-based startup, is using Zoosh as the basis of its PayCloud mobile wallet application for loyalty and gift cards, which was announced last month.


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