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The biggest challenge however is one that both Apple and Google face: Only a small fraction of the 10 million or so retail outlets in the U.S.–220,000 at last count–have checkout readers that can accept payments from either system. Both wallets use a radio technology called Near Field Communication to send payment, and it's expected to take years for most stores to be upgraded. What's at play? The big tech companies and carriers seem convinced that our phones will eventually replace our wallets. For carriers, that could make mobile wallet technology table stakes over the next few years as they compete for consumers.
In major cities, the Wi-Fi-first network makes sense. People use smartphones frequently while sitting around their offices and apartments, and Wi-Fi can handle the job just fine. But once people start moving around, it is not so simple. The benefit of a cell service is that your phone can switch among multiple towers while you are on the go which wi-fi is not designed to handle. Google may be experimenting with a hybrid approach similar to the small companies'. A person briefed on Google's plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were private, says the company wants to make use of the fiber network it has installed in various cities to create an enormous network of Wi-Fi connections that phones could use to place calls and use apps over the Internet. In areas out of reach, Google's network would switch over to cell towers leased by T-Mobile USA and Sprint. Still many wonder if even the biggest companies could make a Wi-Fi-based phone network work. "There are just so many places where Wi-Fi doesn't reach," says Jan Dawson "and the quality of Wi-Fi that you can find is often subpar."