Bluetooth vs. WiFi: Accepting Credit Cards Without the Wires

Updated on July 1st, 2017
hacker stealing info on wifi

Chances are that you own a NFC-equipped mobile device. Not only is NFC-technology a standard feature in most mobile devices, an impressive 79.1 percent of mobile market in the U.S. owns a smartphone.

No wonder then that NFC-technology is becoming increasingly popular among both customers and merchants. Everyone has a smartphone on them. And, processing payments via NFC is easy, convenient, and much faster than inserting a card into an EMV terminal.

There’s no denying that NFC technology has helped mobile payments evolve, but with so much focus on this contactless payment, we often overlook two very important other wireless technologies that can accept credit cards — Bluetooth and WiFi.

What’s the difference – Bluetooth and WiFi?

Before we start diving into the differences between Bluetooth and WiFi, let’s quickly recap what sets NFC does differently.

On the surface, Near Field Technology and Bluetooth are similar — mainly that they’re both wireless technology. Unlike Bluetooth, which only connects to other Bluetooth devices, NFC pairs two devices for communication and data sharing. It also doesn’t use as much power and is generally easier and faster to set-up since you don’t have to pair it with another device. That also makes NFC more ideal for anonymity.

However, Bluetooth — when it comes to range, transfer speed, acceptance, and usability — NFC can’t compete with Bluetooth — or even Wifi.

With that in mind, let’s get a closer look at what Bluetooth and WiFi can offer.

Range

Both technologies can provide up to a 300 foot range from the base station or wireless access point, while NFC only has a range of 10cm — which is under 4 inches.

Roaming

A WiFi solution has the ability to roam between multiple access points, which makes it an ideal solution if you need to accept payments in larger areas like stadiums or airports. Bluetooth, on the other hand, is paired to a single base station which limits it roaming capabilities.

Setup

There is no setup required with Bluetooth since it communicates to the base station directly out of the box. WiFi, however, requires a terminal, so you’ll have to set up to a secure WIFi network.

Number of Devices

One of the biggest advantages with Bluetooth is that it can support up to seven terminals on one base station. However, an unlimited amount of terminals are allowed to connect to WiFi. NFC only allows you to to connect with one enabled device at a time.

Power Consumption

Generally, a Bluetooth terminal consumes less power than a WiFi terminal, but NFC uses less power than both Bluetooth and WiFi.

Why Bluetooth and WiFi are game changers.

While there are pros and cons to NFC, Bluetooth, and WiFi, it’s being predicting that Bluetooth and WiFi are going to disrupt the payment industry.

Apple Pay: The Game Changer

Abrar Siddiqui, CTO at Lucova, reminds us that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has a longer distance, has a faster transaction speed, and is perfect for merchants who deal with a large group of customers. It’s also supported on all mobile payment platforms. And, that’s a biggie — thanks to Apple.

While Apple Pay supports NFC-technology, David Kaplan, Managing Editor at Geomarketing.com, says that Apple’s “decision to remove the headphone jack is likely to be emulated by other smartphone makers.” According to Kaplan, “That means, in most cases, users will be relying on Bluetooth-powered headphones. As users adopt other Internet of Things devices, the notion of keeping Bluetooth on and being attuned to all kinds of connected sensors (like beacons) will become second nature.”

Additionally, Bluetooth is becoming more mainstream thanks to retailers like Macy’s, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Marriott, and United Airlines using sensors over the last couple of years.

Finally, Google has launched its Hands Free apps that uses either Bluetooth or WiFi technology. This app allows you to make a payment without ever having to take your phone out of your pocket or purse.

The arrival of the IoT and 5G

Besides Google Hands Free, WiFi is getting a big push from the Internet of Things. Visa and Samsung, for example, are both actively working on being able to merge IoT and payments. This means that your Samsung smart fridge will connect to your Samsung Pay account so that it will automatically order a dozen eggs when you’re out. Visa has teamed-up with Honda so that you can locate nearby cash stations and pay for your fuel through your dashboard.

The real game changer, however, could be 5G, aka 5th generation wireless systems. 5G is supposed to provide a connection speed that is 30 to 50 times faster than the current 4G network — which will make payments lightning fast.

“I think this is the beginning of the fourth generation of the industrial revolution. This will be the platform linking billions of devices together,” said Kaan Terzioğlu, the chief executive of Turkcell. While there is no timeline, it’s expected that 5G could become available in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Summary

Thanks to NFC, Bluetooth, and WiFi, it’s possible to accept wireless credit card payments. While each has advantages and disadvantages, you need to consider how many terminals you require for your business. Additionally, you should consider the proximity of your customers.

For example, if you operate a clothing store, WiFi could be prefered because the customers is probably already in your store trying on clothing.

A restaurant, however, could benefit Bluetooth since a customer could order and pay for their meal so that it’s waiting for them when they arrive.

Chalmers Brown - Former CTO of Due

Chalmers Brown - Former CTO of Due

I'm Chalmers Brown and former CTO of Due. I'm a big fan of technology and building financial products that help people better their lives. I have a passion for financial products that help people. I build complex financial infrastructure protocols that help scale financial companies. They are secure and support millions of customers worldwide.

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