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Google Wallet launching today? Signs point to yes

Numerous reports suggest the e-commerce service, which lets users pay for products using an NFC-equipped smartphone, will be announced today.

A credit card running with Google Wallet on the Nexus S.
A credit card running with Google Wallet on the Nexus S.
Sarah Tew/CNET

The pieces appear to be falling into place for the launch of Google Wallet today.

Last night, social-media blog TechCrunch posted an image purporting to be from Google Wallet partners, showing documentation on the service. That documentation says that "Google Wallet is launching September 19, 2011."

Then this morning, another blog, GigaOm, posted an image, taken by one of its reporters at a coffee shop in San Francisco, of a Google Wallet payment reader. The reader provides directions on it, saying users must "tap" their smartphone against the device in order to "pay by smartphone."

Google unveiled its Wallet service in May. The offering, which relies upon near-field communications (NFC) technology to work, allows users to pay for products by simply tapping their smartphone against the Google Wallet-enabled reader.

However, there are a few barriers to entry to get Google Wallet running. For one, users need the Android-based Nexus S smartphone, which has an NFC chip in it. In addition, the service is only available with MasterCard's PayPass system. According to the Google Wallet site, the service will work with Citi MasterCard credit cards and the Google PrePaid Card. In addition, Google Wallet can store "gift cards from participating merchants," Google says.

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• Gogole unveils mobile payments, coupon service
• George Costanza's wallet in Google Wallet ad
• The major players in mobile payments

Mobile payment systems are viewed by many as the next big thing in e-commerce. A slew of companies are vying to carve out a portion of the mobile-payment service in addition to Google, including PayPal, Visa, and American Express. There is also rampant speculation that Apple's iPhone 5 will come with near-field communications, paving the way for that company to also enter the space.

However, such fragmentation could prove troublesome for consumers. In order for mobile-payment services to work, several stakeholders need to be on-board, including merchants, credit card companies, and mobile device vendors. All the major U.S. wireless carriers are also planning to make a splash in the market, which could drastically alter which service comes out on top.

Regardless, it appears that companies see a bright future for people paying for products from their smartphones, rather than being forced to open their wallets and take plastic out. Google has been especially focused on driving home the value of a mobile-payment system. Last week, the company unveiled an ad for its Wallet service showcasing Seinfeld character George Costanza's troubles with his own, massive wallet. The ad ends with a simple catchphrase: "Goodbye, wallet. The phone will take it from here."

Exactly when Google Wallet will launch, however, still remains to be seen. The service's official Web site still says that it's "coming soon," and so far, Google has remained tight-lipped on the launch: the search company did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

Update at 6:50 a.m. PT to include more detail.