Apple Pay rival CurrentC coming in mid-2015

The payments platform operated by major US retailers is testing Bluetooth and barcode technologies

The mobile payments space is about to get more crowded: CurrentC, a platform backed by some of the country's biggest retailers, will launch in the next few months and give Apple, Google and Samsung added competition.

Few details are known about the service, but it is expected to merge payments and loyalty benefits and will give retailers additional insight into the spending habits of customers who are members. Less is known about the benefits it may offer consumers.

A small -scale trial began last year and CurrentC is currently being tested in several undisclosed markets around the U.S. However, its use is restricted to employees of member retailers, which include Walmart, 7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts, Sears, Best Buy, Exxon Mobil and Gap.

Merchant Content Exchange (MCX), the operator of the service, plans to make it available to the public in mid 2015, but in a single market at first.

The location "will be determined based on a number of factors, including retail support, infrastructure and consumer population," the company said in a statement to IDG News Service.

CurrentC got a higher profile in October last year when pharmacy chains CVS and Rite Aid, both MCX members, stopped accepting Apple Pay a week after it launched. At the time it was widely interpreted as an attempt to block the rival service while CurrentC was getting off the ground.

At the time many questioned CurrentC's potential for success based on its reliance on barcodes rather than NFC short-range wireless communications used by Apple and competitors.

With CurrentC, a user points their phone camera at a one-time barcode displayed on a retailer terminal to trigger payment. The payment takes place using a previously registered bank account, so no payment information is exchanged or transmitted in stores.

That's not perhaps as easy as NFC payments, which can be accomplished by bringing a phone near a reader, but MCX argues that barcodes are more widely supported than NFC in smartphones.

MCX said it's open to using other technologies and that appears to be happening. A version based on Bluetooth is also being tested and there are "more to come," it said.

Details of the system were expected to be announced at last week's Transact 15 payments expo in San Francisco, where MCX CEO Dekkers Davidson was scheduled to deliver a keynote address, but that was canceled shortly before the event began.

In recent weeks, the company has been recruiting computer security engineers to work at its Dallas offices and run its security engineering and incident response programs.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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