Digicel Pacific, the mobile operator with a presence in a number of markets across the Pacific region, has launched an NFC-capable mobile wallet that does not require a subscriber to have a bank account, credit card or smartphone in order to make payments using their mobile phone.

The service is launching in Tonga this week starting in the kingdom’s capital of Nuku'alofa with 50 merchants. The operator plans to extend the service throughout the island and also wants to launch in other countries in the Pacific too.  The planned deployment is Tonga followed by Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Fiji.

The new service is a means to connect the international remittance payments which are central to Tonga’s economy with making  payments to local merchants. Digicel has partnered with US vendor VeriFone and KlickEx, the currency exchange company from New Zealand. The service is based on NFC tags supplied by Digicel as well as subscribers’ mobile numbers and a mobile wallet solution and contactless payment system from VeriFone.  Users can pay for goods and services by tapping their NFC tagged phones against point of sale terminals in retail outlets.

The operator points out that many Tongans do not have bank accounts and that penetration of credit cards is extremely low in the kingdom. And buying an NFC handset is well beyond the pockets of most people.  Many families in Tonga are dependent on international remittance payments from relatives working in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

Digicel Pacific launched an international money transfer service as a result of a collaboration with KlickEx, an online currency exchange platform, at the end of 2011. According to a 2011 World Bank report, remittance payments account for more than 30 percent of Tongan GDP making it the second most dependent economy in the world on remittances.