Mobile payments

HKT adds its heavyweight support to Apple Pay

City’s biggest mobile operator says its ‘Tap & Go’ prepaid service to start working with payment method from Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 6:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 8:32pm

HKT, the largest fixed-line and mobile network operator in Hong Kong, is looking to rev up the city’s adoption of mobile payments as it joins a growing network of service providers that support Apple Pay.

The telecoms giant’s “Tap & Go” prepaid service on Tuesday started its support of Apple Pay, roughly a week after HKT group managing director Alexander Arena confirmed the company’s deal with Apple.

“The whole mobile payments market is still in its very early days. Not every smartphone has near-field communications (NFC) built into it,” Arena told a press conference last week.

Apple Pay uses NFC technology built into iPhones and the Apple Watch to allow for contactless payment in stores, which have the sales terminals to support the service.

It can also be used to pay for purchases made within mobile apps on the iPhone and iPad.

The mobile payment system was launched last month in Hong Kong, the third major market in Asia to roll out the service this year after mainland China and Singapore, to eligible cardholders of American Express, Visa and MasterCard.

“You’ll see NFC being progressively extended to all smartphones, and consumers will be encouraged to use their phone as a wallet,” Arena said.

Tap & Go, initially introduced by HKT in July last year to subscribers using Android smartphones, is expected to receive a boost as its large base of subscribers with iPhones now have Apple Pay support.

HKT group managing director Alexander Arena

“I don’t think anybody has the market share numbers for Tap & Go yet, but these are very exciting times,” Arena said.

HKT had a total of 4.445 million mobile subscribers by the end of June under its premium “1010”, mainstream “CSL” and low-cost “Sun Mobile” brands.

Its subscribers open the Wallet app on their iPhones, tap the plus sign and follow the onscreen instructions to add Tap & Go and activate Apple Pay.

From Tuesday until the end of this month, HKT is offering a HK$50 rebate promotion to use Tap & Go for Apple Pay transactions.

The service enables HKT mobile subscribers to make payments at more than three million MasterCard PayPass readers in stores around the world.

There are an estimated 10,000 merchant locations in Hong Kong that accept Apple Pay, and more than 10 million in all nine major markets where the service has launched so far.

According to Apple, the Bank of East Asia also started supporting Apple Pay from Tuesday.

The initial batch of Apple Pay participating banks in Hong Kong — American Express, Standard Chartered, DBS, Hang Seng Bank, HSBC and BOC Credit Card, a subsidiary of Bank of China (Hong Kong) — cover an estimated 70 per cent of cardholders in the city, according to Apple.

Hong Kong has been behind other markets, especially mainland China, in adopting mobile payment services, despite recent campaigns from wireless network operators HKT and SmarTone Telecommunications.

Consumers in Hong Kong are used to more familiar payment options, such as Octopus cards. Many merchants are also wary of making new investments in contactless point-of-sale terminals.

Banks and other financial services providers, however, are looking forward to changes in the market.

“We believe Apple Pay and other payment innovations will help reinvigorate and enhance how millions of people spend and pay everyday,” said Ken Chew, the managing director of consumer finance and eBusiness at DBS Bank (Hong Kong).

An Apple Pay spokesman added there may be some adjustments to first-time users of Apple Pay in the city.

“Users should hold their iPhone or Apple Watch near the reader when using Apple Pay,” the spokesman said. “The transaction will be finished only until when they see the “Done” alert appear on the screen of either their iPhone or Apple Watch.”

Apple Pay does not have a specific payment limit in many stores in Hong Kong that support the service.

The models with NFC and Touch ID biometric sensor to support Apple Pay include the iPhone SE, iPhone 6 , iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 6s Plus.

Apple Pay, which was launched in October 2014, is also available in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Switzerland and Australia.