Payments Leader

Smart Technology Without a Smartphone – by Naveen Nukala

December 26, 2017

Naveen Nukala, General Manager- Government Solutions/EBT, IFS

Mobile technology has the ability to ease access to EBT, simplify benefit distribution, eliminate the stigma that consumers attach to payments made with EBT cards and further reduce fraud, as we’ve discussed. The problem is that many EBT recipients lack the resources to own a smartphone. Fortunately, smart technology is leveling the playing field and eliminating the hurdle that smartphones can represent.

Facilitating payments without a smartphone

More than 80 percent of those below the poverty level own a mobile phone, according to the Pew Research Center. However, (only about half of the households in the low-income bracket (below $30,000, annually) own smartphones. For low-income seniors, the percentage of smartphone ownership falls to 27 percent, even though 73 percent of seniors report owning a mobile phone.

Fortunately, there is technology already in place – audio QR – that can make all cell phones payment-ready. Audio QR isn’t new technology, but new uses for it are expanding the market for mobile payments, including EBT payments. It’s positioned as a substitute for QR code scanning and NFC payments. Its main benefit is that users only need a basic phone with a speaker and microphone to transmit payments securely. It doesn’t require a camera like a QR code scanner does, and it doesn’t require a dedicated chip in the transmitter and receiver like NFC does.

Audio QR works by using ultrasonic sound. The sender’s device – the consumer’s cell phone, for example – is placed in proximity to another device, such as the merchant’s mobile device, and the recipient is identified by sound. The speaker at one end of the transaction sends ultrasonic frequencies in the form of pulses. The receiver’s device then captures the pulses and converts the frequencies back to the original data. No identifiable information passes between the two devices.

In addition to the value for consumers who don’t own smartphones, merchants benefit because the system requires very little from them. In fact, the technology can be used by merchants without access to traditional point-of-sale systems as well as in self-service environments.

Audio QR for payments going global

The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to surpass five billion by 2019. Only 2.7 billion of those will own smartphones, however. That leaves 2.3 billion potential users of audio QR for payments.

Google recently entered the audio QR payments arena with its launch of Google Tez in India. The app works in a simple way:

  • The sender searches for nearby devices
  • Once the target device is located, the sender asks it to select “Accept”
  • Once paired, the sender chooses the mode and amount of payment and then selects “Pay”
  • The payment is transferred to the bank account associated with the target device

In China, an audio QR app developed for independent coffee shops enables not just payments but also loyalty point awards.

EBT payments represent a small part of audio QR’s potential. At the forefront of innovative technologies, FIS expects to see payments applications of audio QR expand to serve the needs of millions of consumers globally. The sound revolution is gaining traction!


Naveen Nukala

General Manager- Government Solutions/EBT, IFS

Naveen Nukala brings over 20 years of financial and payments industry experience to FIS through product development, implementations, operations and management roles of which most of the experience in the area of Government Benefits (EBT – SNAP, WIC, TANF, Child Care). Currently, he is responsible for Government line of business at FIS.