Leading Russian mobile operator MTS has launched a commercial NFC service in Moscow in partnership with MTS Bank and MasterCard. It is the country’s first commercial NFC service, the operator says.

The service is available either via a NFC-enabled SIM card or a single Android smartphone, the Sony Xperia Sola, which has NFC functionality.  MTS and MTS Bank are both part of the Sistema group.

The operator aims to issue around 200,000 of the NFC-enabled SIM cards by the end of the year. The SIM cards, which allow users of conventional handsets to make mobile payments, are now on sale in MTS’s own retail chain in Moscow and the surrounding region. The operator says it will extend this rollout to other regions in the country later this year. MTS has more than 4,000 retail outlets nationally.

The Sony handset, which is exclusive to MTS, will go on sale in its retail chain later this month.

The NFC-based service enables users to make a payment of up to RUB1,000 (US$32) via their mobile phone without inputting a PIN. They can make payments at point-of-sale terminals in Moscow where Mastercard's PayPass technology is deployed. There are more than 4,000 such terminals across Russia.

MTS says it is currently installing an NFC-enabled payment processing system in its own retail chain. And MTS Bank is adding NFC functionality to its ATM machines.