Company: Company: ROAM Data Inc.
It was hardly surprising that this year's winner of the coveted Electronic Transactions Association's Technology Innovation Award - announced at the April 2010 ETA conference in Las Vegas - was a mobile phone-based payment terminal and gateway.
It seems that downloadable mobile terminals have been, by a long shot, the most popular, oft-discussed and widely adopted new payment product of the past year.
Yet, given the large and still expanding number of providers deploying such terminals, it has become increasingly difficult to develop a unique product that distinguishes itself from the ballooning pack.
One product that has done so - and which won this year's Tech Innovation Award as a result - is ROAMpay, a virtual terminal from the Boston-based payment technology and gateway provider ROAM Data Inc.
ROAMpay has all the trappings of a high-end mobile gateway. It is the technological equivalent of, say, a baseball player who excels in every aspect of the game: a player who not only hits well, but who can run, catch and throw with the best of his peers as well. Suffice to say, ROAMpay seems to have all its bases covered.
And yet, even the baseball analogy falls short in one key respect: However multifaceted a top-notch, boundary-pushing athlete may be, he is limited to performing for only a single team at any given time.
In gateway terms, that translates into compatibility with a single phone operator - a constraint that many mobile terminal downloads have moved beyond.
Mobile gateway providers now commonly offer their software with several or more different mobile devices, focusing mainly on smart phones like the Apple Inc. iPhone, the Research in Motion BlackBerry and mobile devices that use Google Inc.'s Android operating system.
ROAMpay, however, takes scalability to a new level. According to ROAM Data founder and Chief Executive Officer Will Wang Graylin, the payment terminal and gateway works with virtually "all the major phone brands - hundreds of different models."
And that's not all: this mobile terminal isn't even exclusively mobile, as it integrates with Macintosh and PC desktop and laptop computers as well.
"What's unique about us is we are device agnostic," Graylin said. "In fact, we don't care whether it's a laptop, a Tablet, a Windows operating system, an iPhone, an Android or a BlackBerry. ... We broke through that paradigm [of limited compatibility].
"A lot of people can write an iPhone application to process credit cards; writing an application on one device is very doable, but as soon as you start to go across many of these phones it becomes enormously difficult."
According to Graylin, such large-scale compatibility has eluded other mobile payment technology innovators because their software applications are "static," meaning they are designed for one particular mobile platform to the exclusion of all others. Among mobile gateways that have extended their compatibility to multiple platforms, programmers have had to write entirely separate applications for each one.
By contrast, ROAM Data has formulated - and patented - a single software application that integrates seamlessly with numerous mobile providers, according to Graylin.
"A key differentiation is our ability to reach across all these different operating systems and networks to service that end user with their application," he said. "We want to go to them, rather than dictate what phone they have to carry to use our service.
"Everyone else is writing one application at a time, meaning you have to write it for the iPhone, certify it, make sure everything's working right, publish [the software program] and then [deploy the product]. And when you make a change you have to start all over - rewrite it for every device you support."
But ROAM Data does it differently by deploying applications directly from its server. "We write it once, and it's interpreted and run by all our supported devices the exact same way," Graylin said.
"We did the heavy lifting one time such that when we deploy the application from the server side, the ROAM player interprets it so you don't have to rewrite it for every device. It's the next generation of technology."
Sellers of ROAMpay enjoy significantly higher market penetration than with competing products, Graylin said. He added that products compatible with a single mobile device will target, at best, 5 percent of the merchant market and that "all smart phones combined today" account for only about 15 percent of total market share.
He said ROAMpay is applicable to approximately 90 percent of merchants, meaning ISOs do not need to sell the service to merchants outside of the markets they already serve.
Other features of ROAMpay include a button for sending email receipts (which can be sent for any type of payment, including cash-based purchases) and a voice recognition feature that helps with data input relating to things like customer name and address.
"If you have a feature phone with just 12 buttons and want to input somebody's address, you could just say '280 Summer Street,' press that button and it would recognize your voice and repopulate [an information entry page]," Graylin said. "Our whole core competence is making the mobile experience simple."
To that end, the platform offers another convenience option alongside the voice recognition piece: a reverse phone number look-up, where customers listed in the white pages of phonebooks can have their names and address information automatically populated by entering their listed phone numbers.
ROAMpay also includes email receipts and a direct connection between the payment gateway and back-end systems that assist with merchant sales data input and, for franchisees, "order fulfillment through the corporation," Graylin said. "We can combine functionalities of the merchant directly to their end user in such a way that it's not just a payment application," he added.
That robust functionality of ROAMpay is designed to attract direct selling companies and other entities with large fleet operations. "They want more than just accepting payments," Graylin said. "They might want order entry and may want that order to be fulfilled by the corporation; and they may want to capture the customer information and log it."
This order fulfillment feature comes into play when customers pay mobile merchants for goods that are shipped remotely from a corporate headquarters or the like. By clicking a button on the ROAM platform, a merchant can relay transaction and shipping information to corporate headquarters during the normal payment process - without getting on the phone or sending a fax.
Finally, ROAMpay includes the option of a small, encrypted swipe device for merchants who wish to take swipe transactions rather than keyed ones. The device - a small, plastic, semicircular attachment that connects into a phone's audio jack - is another product engineered by ROAM.
"We've come up with the lowest-costing encrypted card swipe in the world," Graylin said. "It attaches to the audio jack, and we're the first encrypted audio-swipe device on the market."
Considering that the company appears loaded with creative talent - and given its recent coup at the ETA - the company envisions that it won't be long before most mobile reseller channels lead, one way or another, to ROAM.
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