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wave and pay

noun [uncountable]

a system of paying for goods or services by moving a credit card or mobile phone in front of a special machine which automatically reads the information

wave and pay


'Mass adoption of wave and pay years away … A Paypal executive has ruled out the mass adoption of waving and paying for products using mobile phones like credit cards for at least three years.'

The Telegraph 3rd October 2011

'Mobile phone firms team up to develop wave and pay system … Consumers will be able to pay for sandwiches, drinks and train tickets by placing their phones close to a reader similar to the Oyster card system on the London Underground.'

The Guardian 16th June 2011

In the UK and many other countries in the world, the concept of chip and pin, paying for something by popping a credit or debit card into a machine and entering a security number, has become a routine procedure when enjoying a bit of retail therapy. But there's a new idea in the field designed to take the pressure off our memories and our fingertips – the technology now described as wave and pay.

the main advantage of wave and pay is that it is fast … so could be particularly useful for small transactions at places like fast-food outlets, coffee shops, newsagents and parking machines, where queues can build up easily

The wave and pay system uses an identification method based on radio frequency so that, rather than having to insert a card directly into a reader, the card only needs to be placed somewhere close to an appropriately-enabled device in order for the details of the transaction to be transferred and recorded. This kind of card, which has a specially embedded electronic tag and so doesn't come into contact with the card reader or require a user to enter any further information, is therefore now often described as a contactless debit/credit card. Contactless cards incorporate certain security features, such as a payment limit on single transactions, and only being usable a specified number of times before customers are asked to confirm their PIN.

A further development of wave and pay incorporates the mainstay of 21st century communication, the mobile phone. Instead of contactless cards, owners of more sophisticated mobiles, smartphones such as the iPhone, have the option to simply wave their phone in front of a device in order to pay for things. These phones need to include a special app incorporating the details of one or more of a user's payment cards. This concept, often informally described as a mobile wallet, exploits a new technology called Near Field Communication (or NFC for short), which basically allows two devices to exchange data when they come within a few inches of each other.

The main advantage of wave and pay is that it is fast and therefore potentially speeds up the through-put of customers, so could be particularly useful for small transactions at places like fast-food outlets, coffee shops, newsagents and parking machines, where queues can build up easily. It has however taken off more slowly than anticipated because of users' security concerns, particularly in relation to its use in conjunction with mobile phones, where consumers have been scared off by the potential for phone hacking.

Background – wave and pay

The expression wave and pay, used both adjectivally and as an uncountable noun, first began to appear about five years ago, with the first contactless cards appearing in the UK in 2008. The technology goes back a little further however to the late nineties, when oil company Mobil became one of the first to adopt it with their 'Speedpass', a special key fob which could be scanned and used to pay for fuel at service stations in the US. Hong Kong was one of the first places in the world to adopt a contactless payment system more widely in shops and restaurants, launching their 'Octopus card' in September 1997.

Though the expression wave and pay has not fully transferred to verb use, there is some evidence of a gerund form waving and paying in reference to the action, as illustrated in the first citation above.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 28th November 2011.

Open Dictionary

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