From Track and Field to Near-Field

Olympics. Technology. Banking. Innovation.

Those are not random words strung together, or an industry-friendly version of the old ‘Mad Libs.’ It actually makes perfect sense.

The Olympics are gargantuan, global and highly visible.  Boundaries collapse, currencies are exchanged, records get set and broken, cultures mingle and clash. Even people who can’t tell the difference between the pole vault and the pommel horse become engrossed. Enormous investments in time, effort and money pay off. . .or don’t. Years of practice go into a three-second javelin toss. Reputations are made and left behind. And it all happens under a massive spotlight: The world really is watching.

These magical few days reveal dedication, innovation, and true excellence, the best of the human spirit. And it isn’t just confined to sporting events—while the Olympics may have originated as a celebration of amateur ability, it’s also a huge commercial undertaking. And here, too, we can find true innovation.

As happens every four years, plenty of enterprises have stepped up to the plate in Brazil. Some advances are just seeing the light of day, others are being deployed on a grand scale for the first time, and hoping to find an audience elsewhere. Some of them will surely be adopted within the hallowed halls of our industry, assuming they do the job as advertised.

For example, security is the topline nightmare for all involved, and that’s why you’ll see giant balloons (that see you right back). These aerial watchdogs are Altave Omni Aerostats, and they carry high-resolution cameras that miss nothing. The technology is truly spectacular—among other features, the 120 MPixel per frame means it offers 60 times a full HD resolution, up to six users can watch different parts of the captured image, each performing independent pan, tilt  and zoom functions.

Meanwhile, the sprawling action on the ground is being ably supported by operations in the cloud.  These are the first Olympics in which functions such as volunteer activities and credential management are being hosted on a private cloud, which comes courtesy telecom provider Embratel. The scale is impressive: The Backbone Olímpico Embratel network features more than 230 miles of fiber optics with forty Gigabits per second speed, connecting more than 60,000 network access point across 100-plus venues. And if all goes well this time, the 2020 Games will be entirely cloud-based.

But here’s the one we really like: Contactless mobile payments of the Near-Field Communications (NFC) variety.

At the Games, Visa has rolled out a payment ring that allows Team Visa athletes to buy products by tapping it against any NFC-compatible terminal. The credit card conglomerate, which is the exclusive payments provider at the Paralympic and Olympic Games, has also joined forces with Swatch to launch an NFC-enabled watch.  This nifty wearable computer—yes, that’s really what it is—enables the user to pre-load funds into an associated bank account, and thereafter make purchases with absolute ease.  Moreover, the Swatch Bellamy watch isn’t just for Olympic-caliber athletes; it’s being rolled out to Brazilian consumers everywhere. Finally, Visa has teamed up with Brazilian bank Bradesco to roll out the NFC-enabled Pulseira Bradesco Visa band. This particular option is being tested with select fans for use at 4,000-plus Visa-enabled contactless terminals around Rio.

We’ve been talking about contactless payments for a long time, and there’s general agreement that no single product launch or other event will drive mass adoption; instead, it will be a gradual evolution in usage growth.  It’s a long journey, with interesting milestones along the way. The 2016 Olympics could be exactly that type of marker.

Written by Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal is's resident news reporter. He writes regular blogs covering the latest stories and key developments in the global financial services industry.

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