The business of retail is about separating people from their money, and recently the industry has also seen how advances in payment systems technology could soon separate innovators in the financial sector from laggards

At Telia, the Nordic telco’s engineers are putting its brand new 5G network to use in combining these two innovation tracks for what may seem inevitable: facial biometric payments.

While developers at OP Financial in Finland may have only recently completed the pilot phase of face payment technology, that could change swiftly once Telia’s 5G coverage in Finland is widespread, and once Finnish mobile users are equipped with phones that support the new standard. 

According to GlobalData, 5G will account for 18% of subscriptions and 31% of mobile services revenues in Europe by 2024. But in the meantime, it won’t be difficult for users to add a face, as just another payment option on OP’s “Pivo” mobile banking payments app, which currently allows consumers to pay for goods and services using contactless technology on their smartphones linked to credit and debit card accounts. 

Telia says face payment is the kind of application that 5G was made for, seeing as it requires high capacity bandwidth together with low latency and stringent security capabilities. 

Based on its pilot and demos at the recent Slush 2019 start-up event in Helsinki, the use of facial recognition makes payment quick and easy—even at a mobile ice cream truck. By facing a locked tablet running a custom in-store app at the point of sale, the system compares the customer’s face with their own biometric record (ie, their profile photo). After a quick authentication, which may involve blinking once or twice to prove it’s an actual person rather than a photograph, the customer accepts the payment using pre-saved account details. The entire transaction is completed without a credit card, cash or mobile phone, let alone a wallet or purse. 

Pivo Face Payment is designed as a bank-independent solution that requires only a mobile device with iOS 11.0 or Android 8.0 (or a more recent upgrade), and a Visa or Master Card. It’s also telco-independent, although the inference from Telia’s demo and the announcement is that successful use of face payment will need a 5G network connection.

That’s probably not the case, however. Pivo’s pilot says transactions take just 7.5 seconds on average, considerably faster than using a mobile wallet or a contactless credit card, and that’s without taking the access technology into account. A 4G LTE or WiFi connection should be fine for supporting Pivo Face Payments initially, although once adoption scales are taken into account, it may be a different matter.

How quickly will it scale? That will depend on user attitudes to facial recognition, even before 5G coverage is factored in. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that only 59% of people in the US believe even the police should be using the technology for issues such as security threats, let alone tech companies (36%) or advertisers (17%). On the other hand, Pivo says only 1 out of the 200 people who took part in initial trials said they would not use face payment in the future. If it proves popular among those who have tried it, Telia’s national 5G rollout (on target to cover the seven largest cities in Finland by year-end) may need to accelerate.

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