From novelty to necessity?

Venugopal Ramakrishnan, Digital Testing Lead, Accenture Mobility, part of Accenture Digital, details the role of testing on the road to contactless payments.

It has been several years now since contactless technologies were first introduced. It was 1983 when Charles Walton patented RFID (radio frequency identification device), and the era of contactless payments took off subsequently with the advent of NFC (near field communications). But it is only in the last five years or so, with the proliferation of complementing digital technologies, that contactless payment solutions have witnessed rapid adoption and success. Within the UK itself, the cards have grown from about 61.6 million to 84.2 million in circulation within a year. Contactless transactions have rapidly increased to around 32 million every month. Not surprisingly, the market is expected to grow twofold in the next three years to over US$9.8 billion.

The evolution can be traced back to Seoul, South Korea in the 1990s when a contactless payment card was first used by bus and train commuters. There have been several adopters since then, from the first experimentation by McDonald’s food joints to Disney’s magic bands more recently. As wearable payment bands begin to find their way into the hands of the digital consumer, one can only expect that the technology will become a way of life for most people very soon. It is but natural for some of the leaders in the connected world today, such as Apple and Google to tap into this market with their own solutions.

As the future of contactless technology unfolds, with wearable technologies leading the trend in the IoT space, there are several interesting possibilities and approaches being seriously explored. Watch manufacturers, for instance, are beginning to tie up with merchant cards. NFC as a technology is enabling more and more wearables, sensors and day‑to‑day devices to communicate intelligently, creating a huge number of possibilities in enhancing business value and offering a rich consumer experience. With biometrics progressing from fingerprint scanning to waving at scanners; the automobile industry beginning to use beacon technologies in parking lots and gas stations and EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) looking to tokenisation for mobile transactions to be secure and fast, the challenge has shifted. It has moved from getting the technology to work and deliver business outcomes, to getting payment solutions to perform in time, every time while remaining secure. In the meantime Bitcoin, with its blockchain‑based transaction management and other distributed ledger solutions has begun to show more promise. Though not mainstream, IDC predicts that 2% of all global payments will be Bitcoin transactions in the next two years.

Overcoming the Challenges

While there are several challenges facing the contactless industry and its beneficiaries, the focus must be on performance once deployed in order to guarantee adoption and continued use.

Anyone passing through a turnstile at a London Underground station would recognise the challenge of the number of taps every minute, and the associated transaction processing on the card. A contactless payment is expected to support about 60 taps a minute, with a transaction time of less than 300 milliseconds. Down time of devices is almost unthinkable. Zero tolerance is expected when it comes to read/write errors on the card or loss of transaction records. They simply cannot happen.

With mobile payments, and the entry as a result of mobile devices on several OS platforms, technology challenges have only increased. The fact that several countries follow multiple standards has added to the challenges facing the rollout of contactless payments and ensuring devices interoperate and perform in a secure fashion.

Testing and monitoring to assure quality, as a result, is no easy task. Given the stakes, it is critical for any deployment of contactless payments to adopt a test strategy that can support several thousands of cycles, cover as many devices as required including smart cards embedded with an integrated circuit chip, and provide a fool‑proof mechanism for each transaction to be inherently secure.

Time and cost savings in testing

For several years now, the industry has been investing in innovation and delivering automated test solutions for contactless payment solutions. The primary objective of one of the projects Accenture has worked on was to automate and rapidly test a smart card payment system for transit service providers and retailers across the globe. One such implementation involved around 800+ functional tests and 100 performance tests to be executed on several smart cards for their interaction with multiple point of sale devices. Close to 50% of functional tests and 75% of performance tests have been automated, meaning that a typical regression cycle that would once take 45 days can now be executed in under 25 days, resulting in a significant reduction in cost and improvement in quality assurance. The automated test framework included a test control system to control the card reader, actuator and turnstile emulator. The card reader‑actuator used a stepper motor to alternately tap the smart card between the card reader and the device under test. The emulator was used to simulate the closing and opening of gates. Typical performance issues found include the card reader crashing after 2000 transactions, erroneous balances on the smart card after high speed tapping, device registry corruptions, application reboots and device freezing.

The solution now has been enhanced to test mobile payments, using a robotic arm that picks up mobile devices and taps against devices, automating test scripts that operate the mobile application and also manage the backend process to provide an end‑to‑end automated testing solution. The solution is also capable of testing secure element APIs, application installation and payment configuration, device and application compatibility, and interoperability. This can result in over 30% savings in effort and cost in addition to helping clients bring contactless payment solutions faster into the market.

Over the longer term, as digital technologies continue to come together, the test industry will be expected to rise to the occasion and address the end‑to‑end performance and security needs of retailers, consumers and digital enterprises alike.


This article was first published in the September 2016 issue of TEST Magazine. Edited for web by Jordan Platt.