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T-Mobile: Mobile payments coming to U.S. in 2012

Executives of parent company Deutsche Telekom say the company will enable mobile payments with NFC chip-equipped phones in some countries this year, and in the U.S. next year.

Google's Nexus S Android phone is one of the rare phones already equipped with near-field communications technology.
Google's Nexus S Android phone is one of the rare phones already equipped with near-field communications technology.

Using our mobile phones as wallets is closer to reality. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this morning, Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile USA, says it will unleash the capability to its customers this year.

The first customers to get the full payment system are those subscribers in Germany and Poland. The U.S., Netherlands, and Czech Republic will follow in 2012. Deutsche Telekom said it expected customers to use their phones in place of cash, and eventually in place of tickets for public transportation systems.

The payment system will be run and billed by the carrier, but it requires phones with NFC, or near-field communication, chips embedded inside. The chips allow data to be sent wirelessly over very short distances, around 4 inches. So when a customer waves his phone over a payment terminal, a transaction can be recorded.

But which handset manufacturers will get on board first? Beyond the Nexus S Android phone, few phones have the chips currently embedded. That's where reports from the press conference get really interesting. According to bloggers who were in the room, Deutsche Telekom executives handed out a slide deck that listed manufacturers it expects to launch NFC-equipped phones this year: Apple sometime this year, Samsung in the second quarter of the year, followed by RIM and LG during the third quarter.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

It's not, however, wholly surprising that Apple's name was dropped. It was rumored in August that Apple was testing an iPhone with NFC chips ordered from NXP Semiconductor. It's also well known in the mobile-payments world that Apple hired Benjamin Vigier from mFoundry to be its mobile-payments product manager last year.

Plus, making the iPhone a place to process payments or keep track of tickets or loyalty program points seems like a no-brainer for Apple, which has more than 150 million credit cards already hooked up to iTunes accounts.

There's likely to be much, much more news about NFC over the next few months, as the category is heating up. A trio of companies in the U.K. said last month they plan to start a mobile-payments system together that will be activated this summer.