Visa, Samsung Ink NFC Deal, Galaxy S IV First In Line For Deep Integration; ROAM Is Visa’s First ‘Ready’ Mobile Payment Partner

Visa is swiftly moving ahead announcing its first partners for its new NFC initiative and push into the wider world of mobile payments — two programs it announced a few days ago that come with a set of APIs to let third parties integrate the credit card giant’s payment services more seamlessly into their own. Visa has named Samsung as its first global NFC partner and dongle maker Ingenico-owned ROAM as its first mobile payment partner for its Visa Ready program.

The Samsung deal is potentially a significant step towards making NFC-based mobile payments more commonplace for more people. Samsung will embed Visa’s NFC software in a range of smartphones and tablets, Bill Gajda, Visa’s global head of mobile product, told TechCrunch.

We understand that the first device that will feature this will be the Samsung Galaxy S IV, its newest flagship smartphone, to be unveiled on March 14 in New York. In all, Visa and Samsung project that this agreement will cover 100 million NFC-enabled devices made and sold by Samsung in the next 12 months. “We needed to start this project with the largest device maker in the world,” Gajda explained. For a sense of perspective on what that 100 million figure represents, ABI projects that there will be 1.95 billion NFC devices shipped by 2017. (In other words, there’s still a long way to go.)

Visa already approves devices equipped for NFC — Gajda says Visa has been working with Samsung, Sony Mobile and in all “nine out of the top 10 handset makers” to do this. “We’ve approved 55 devices already, and have 55 more waiting in line,” he says. One notable recent effort between Samsung and Visa was the partnership bewteen these two for a payments app for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, unveiled this time last year.

The difference in the new NFC integration is that banks and others launching mobile-payment services will, via a set of APIs, use Visa’s new Mobile Provisioning Service to securely download payment account information to NFC-enabled Samsung devices. On top of that, Samsung will preload Visa’s payWave applet on its NFC-equipped mobile devices. In short, it will mean a less frictionless, but still secure, way of using your (Samsung) handset.

Gajda wouldn’t comment on whether Visa has been talking with Apple, or whether Apple had any plans to incorporate NFC into its iPhone handsets at all — a subject of much speculation for a while now. He did admit that while some in the industry still feel that Apple getting on board would be an important part of getting NFC more mindshare, he also said he felt this was a very “U.S.-centric view.”

“There are lots of brands and many operating systems,” he said. “I don’t see one handset maker’s entrance or lack of entrance as a sign of anything.”

The deal is not exclusive on either side — meaning that Samsung will need to work with others like MasterCard — which launched its own assault today on mobile payments by expanding PayPal into a wider MasterPass service for more flexible mobile payments, using different technologies — to get them integrated on to the device. Similarly, Visa will continue to announce more partners.

While the Samsung agreement is an example of how Visa is putting a big bet on NFC, it’s not putting all of its eggs into one basket. The Roam deal is Visa’s attempt to defragment, certify and secure the world of phone/dongle-based mobile payment services.

“There are 150 of these on the market today,” Gajda said today of the many companies like Square and Paypal offering dongles that plug into smartphones and get used by smaller merchants to process credit card payments. “But not all of them are PCI-compliant.” PCI is a security standard developed by the payment card industry. “Mobile point-of-sale solutions are great for a whole new category of payments, but they will only scale if there is confidence.”

Security — whether preceived or real — has been one of the bugbears in mobile payments, with some claiming that the services using dongles are not encrypted well enough.

Visa itself is an investor in Square, and separately has had a personal run-in in this area in Europe. Last year, it halted payments through one startup, iZettle, because its signature-based authentication method, used to complement a dongle that read a chip embedded on a user’s payment card, did not meet European payment regulations. That ended up spurring a whole new wave of solutions featuring chip-and-pin readers — PayPal’s Here being the most recent, launched last week in the U.K.

The Roam deal will mean that both Roam gets certified as a Visa-approved payment partner, and its wholesale dongle hardware and software get approved, too; this is the solution that is used by a number of other providers, like Intuit and Sage, as a white-label solution. All of this will mean that merchants and others using those Roam dongles will also have access to Visa’s APIs via its SDK to further integrate those solutions — for example into apps created by the merchants themselves.

Although both of these solutions are inherently smartphone- and tablet-focused, Gajda notes that Visa is also continuing to work on ways of enabling payments in developing markets, too, where dongles will most likely need to work on feature phones, which are considerably more prevalent today than smart devices. “There are 20 million merchants in India and only 700,000 points of sale,” he notes. “That’s a huge opportunity.”