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Ring It Up

Giving new meaning to the term "pay phone"

Just say "Charge it!"--with your cell phone. Depending on where you live and work, you might buy a latte at Starbucks or a burger at Mickey D's, fill up your tank, wash your clothes or buy an official NBA T-shirt by tapping a few of those little buttons.

Mobile payment systems are still in trials, but creators hope to grease the skids of m-commerce, give your corporate credit card a run for your money and do away with small bills altogether. Phone payment is for those situations where correct change is a hassle and credit cards are impractical--like buying a client a hot dog at a ball game. Phone transactions also make tracking small T&E expenses easier, notes Patrick Bird, CEO of Cellbucks, which lets fans buy food and sports memorabilia without leaving their seats.

The Yankee Group predicts 50 million Americans will use their phones to charge nearly $15 billion in goods and services by 2006. One day, your company could be accepting phone payments for anything from software to Slurpees.

Before that happens, though, we'll have to sort through a welter of competing transmission technologies--embedded RFID chips, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi--and watch cellular carriers wrestle credit card giants for control of billing and fees. But with companies like IBM and Visa behind these wireless trials, this is one segment of mobile commerce that has, at least, a sporting chance.

Daniel Tynan is a freelance technology writer in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ring It Up.

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