Registry Magic plans to turn cell phones into wallets

By Ashlee Vance, InfoWorld |  Networking

REGISTRY MAGIC ANNOUNCED a Bluetooth-based payment system Tuesday that could turn cell phones into virtual wallets. The company's Consumer Payment Network will be fully unveiled next month.

Bluetooth is a standard for short-distance wireless communications that allows devices to connect with each other at maximum speeds of 1Mbps and at distances of as much as to 10 meters. Bluetooth technology uses a small radio chip to replace cable connections and link devices such as laptops, printers, headphones, and cell phones.

Up to this point, many industry pundits have positioned the Bluetooth technology as a way for users to turn their workplaces and homes into cable-free environments. Registry Magic, however, believes its payment system may drive the standard's use in a different direction entirely.

"Since Bluetooth was announced, there have not been many real applications for it," Registry Magic Chairman Lawrence Cohen said. "But after 2001, every cell phone will have a Bluetooth chip in it. With that in mind, we believe we have a killer app here."

Instead of carrying a wallet full of credit cards, gas cards, and retailer-specific cards from store to store, Registry Magic envisions users being able to walk up to a cash register or gas pump, pull out their cell phone and make a secure, wireless transaction on the spot. The cell phone would connect via Bluetooth to the vendor's POS (point-of-sale) hardware and complete the transaction after the user completed a couple of security checks.

The first line of defense when using the cell phone comes when the user enters a pin code into his or her cell phone while standing in line at the cash register, according to Registry Magic. In addition, a user could set up a voice print or a special phrase that the phone would recognize as authorizing purchases. When the user utters a series of words, the phone would check to make sure it is the right voice print and then authorize the transaction. The user could also have his or her picture appear on the phone to confirm the user's identity with a retailer, Registry Magic's Cohen said.

Registry Magic teamed up with Ericsson in November of last year at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas to give a preview of its Consumer Payment Network system and is currently in talks with cell phone makers Nokia and Motorola. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based vendor is also speaking with American Express, Visa International, and MasterCard International on ways to link the wireless technology with the credit card companies' payment systems.

All of the technology needed to complete the payment process is currently available, including a wireless adapter module designed by Registry Magic that Bluetooth-enables a retailer's transaction hardware.

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