One more acquisition for Google (NSDQ: GOOG) made public this week: the search, mobile and advertising giant has added NFC company Zetawire to its portfolio. The purchase underscores Google’s serious interest in trying to convert NFC on mobile devices from a mere good idea into a full-fledged service, something that other players in mobile and financial services have yet to achieve.
Not very much is known about the deal or Zetawire itself. The original transaction appears to have been made in August although news of it only emerged in the last 24 hours by industry blog The 451. Financial terms of the deal have not been made public.
Zetawire was a company in stealth mode, with very little in the way of products or customers, when Google pounced on it. What it did have was a patent and a trademark.
The patent, writes the 451, covers “mobile banking, advertising, identity management, credit card and mobile coupon transaction processing” — in other words, all of the services that people have been promising for years with the coming of NFC on mobile devices. The trademark, first registered last April, was for the brand name Walleto to offer these services.
You can see how a company like Google would want to get involved in this space. If mobile advertising represented a $1 billion business for Google this year, then services enabled by NFC could potentially end up making even more. NFC allows a user to wave a mobile device equipped with an NFC chip to get immediate content streamed to that device, or an immediate purchase. NFC-enabled handsets can deliver targeted ads, based on your location, and then let you physically go and purchase the items in those ads. NFC could potentially become the killer mobile app for Google.
IE Market Research Corp. forecasts that the gross value of mobile payments by 2014 will top $1.14 trillion.
It’s not yet clear how Google plans to use Zetawire’s intellectual property — or if it has already integrated some of it into its latest handset, the Nexus S, or Gingerbread, its latest iteration of Android.
What is more certain is that Google getting behind NFC may be the boost the technology needed to enter public discourse.
Indeed, major credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard, Banks, the largest handset maker in the world, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), several major mobile operators as well as a number of middlemen, have been circling around, trialling and promoting NFC technology in mobile handsets.
Yet these exercises have never converted into widespread services. One of the more recent of these, launched this week, was an NFC initiative in Turkey — a first for this second-tier market. MasterCard, Gemalto, Garanti Bank and Turkish mobile phone operator Avea are all involved with the service, which relies on an antenna-equipped SIM card for its mobile payments to work.