Have you noticed that Google put Hangouts on iOS? And did you see that AT&T is saying the same thing to Google that they said to Apple about FaceTime and data plans...Do you think the billions into the network updates are not buying as much capacity as needed? At the same time the updates to GoogleTalk on Android are guess what? Hangouts. I got the notice today on my Google Nexus while sitting in the Virgin Clubhous airport lounge at Heathrow.
Vodafone in the UK added a new top up NFC based Swipe card. Pretty neat. You link it to your pre-paid account and get it swiped when you pay for a top up. No more entering numbers. They need this in more countries than the UK.
My SFR PayCard is still a challeng to add cash to it for France. Despite the promises that over 24,000 points of sale can be used to add credit, my trys around the Languedoc last week proved fruitless. SFR PR played the game of all answers from the web site. Major failure for MasterCard who is the back end provider of the service. Given they rolled this out over six months back you would think the field force would be more aware. Biggest failure though is you can't even top it up in an SFR store.
Getting the SFR Paycard up and running was mostly an easy experience. Going to the product website, and using Google Chrome which translates foriegn langueges on the fly, made it easy.
I went to the activate page, filled out the form, and found that I needed to use an address in France, so I did, using one I a normally a regular resident of and the card was active. That was a bit of a hurdle, but the card is for the "unbanked in France" or as a secondary credit card.
Loading money on it, well that was more of a challenge. Despite saying that any of the SFR phone recharge locations can sell users of the SFR Paycard a recharge coupon, it wasn't that easy. As a matter of fact, all three SFR sales points, including one SFR owned shop had either people or sales terminals that did not know how to sell a Paycard recharge coupon. That means Plan B-sending an interbank transfer from an account with my name on it which will be done this week, as there's no rush. Once I set up a "optimum" level account money can come from anyone, and I'll have a higher limit, but given this is more of an experiement I'm not so inclined to rush into it.
Given the unfortunate confusion on the part of the point of sale merchants and SFR's own shops not knowing how to recharge the card, I have contacted SFR Public Relations to try to get more light on that and other questions about the NFC and Chip N' Pin based debit card. Stay tuned.
Sidenote-in light of Travelex shutting down their card in the USA, MoneyCorp not having a prepaid card that can be sold to non UK residents yet, and the Orange prepaid card requiring too much advance ordering, tells me that the pre-paid debit card market for global travelers is both a challenge and an opportunity, that both MasterCard and Visa seem to want to play in, but are unable to easily execute on.
With the demise of Travelex's Euro or British Pounds availability in the USA while they and MadterCard sort out their differences I have been searching for a new way to not get caught up in the PIN code less traps around Europe.
The SFR PayCard, sold in France may the answer so over the next few days I will put it to the rest.
The SFR PayCard offers both PIN and NFC contact less payments, works like a stored value card, and promises reloading across France or vi bank transfer. What I like it for is I can now again have a Euro based card that gets me around hassles that are increasing as I travel at railway stations and autoroute toll booths that no longer have live collection agents. It also helps to avoid currency exchange issues, swipe card misreads, reduces the credit card skimming risks but most of all allows me to register the card with mobile operators, at least in France, to recharge my phones credit or buy flights in Euros.
You may be wondering why with all the credit cards I carry I need this?
Over the last 48 hours my Amex had been subject to false positives for fraud, my Visa being unable to be used to buy a train ticket because it lacks Chip and PIN technology and I was forced on the autoroute to use cash to pay tolls as some autoroute toll gates simply will not accept USA credit cards due to chargebacks and fraud.
If you remember ever asking "do you have a toll free number" or if you have ever dialed one, you always were thinking how calling that number saved you money, and maybe realized that the cost was being paid for by the receiving party. Most times the number called was for some type of service, support or reservation.
With unlimited long distance, 800 numbers sorta for many became irrelevant, and with mobile calling plans really being unlimited in nature, the need was sort of also reduced as people stopped paying for minutes, with one exception. The party on the receiving end of an 800 number.
Last week in London, uber-analyst Dean Bubley and I had one of our regular get togethers over a cocktail, some food and conversation where we chat without an agenda and let stream of consciousness and relevance become the compass. As we chatted we got onto the topic of both WebRTC and Skype and how the 800 toll free market was a common target for both.
Dean quickly pointed out something that has been in the back of my mind, the upcoming Skype/Lync integration, and how instead of advertising toll free 800 numbers, or usually being regional in nature, how the presenters of toll free numbers could start presenting SKYPE ID's as with Lync, the interconnection into the "PBX" in the call center occurs. Then we switched to talking about the same implications of WebRTC and how this all occurs in the browser.
If you think about it, already inside the browser we get pop ups asking for a chat if we are filling out forms, struggling with a reservation, or making a transaction that seems to be taking longer or is being rejected.
Both Skype and WebRTC would work to remove the barriers of geography, further driving more call centers in more places, but with call transfer ability for both Lync and WebRTC - once it interconnects to the PBX, means more expertise available. The current path of WebRTC is richer than what we have seen so far from Microsoft, but I don't think their not thinking about the on screen, in browser experience. Quite the opposite, I feel that they are, and that we'll see more screen sharing, on screen video calling with remote support and collaboration from them, all within the browser as Skype partially migrates from an installed app to a Web app and has that Lync connection going.
But if one thinks about this, and as Dean and I discussed, this is also where Google has a running start, as the Android OS is already seeing beta builds of WebRTC inside Chrome, and since it will be natively available on Android devices that operate on both Wi-Fi and LTE, this means in many situations, "calling for support" doesn't have to mean dialing up over the PSTN any longer. Conversely, Microsoft and it's Windows Mobile is going nowhere fast.
But the more one looks at it, the more one sees WebRTC and Skype as having all the potential of being a massive disruptor to the toll free and call center markets, so it's no wonder why the telcos are both looking at WebRTC (Telefonica buying TokBox, Ericsson fueling AT&T's Foundry, etc.) and trying to manage its deployment.