Are you familiar with the name Will Littlejohn? For the uninitiated, he is the director of Sound design at Facebook. Never thought Facebook had a sound designer, you say? Well that little whoosh you hear after uploading content or that little ping when you receive messages constitute Littlejohn's sonic CV.
Each sound is studied - its frequency, duration and the subtle auditory affirmations - before they become part of the blue-and-white world. Because that's the power of sound. However, the potential of sound remains yet to be tapped fully. A greater utilisation of its infinite potential is brewing in the field of transactional soundwave technology or using sounds to carry out transactions.
Work on developing Near Sound Data Transfer technologies has been going on for more than a decade. However, payments are one of the most recent spaces where the sound is being considered as a medium to enable transactions. While hordes of technologies such as Unified Payments Interface (UPI), mobile wallets and payments banks have emerged and disrupted the payments space in the recent past and still continue to, sound-based technology has a clear edge over the rest in this segment.
This is because sound-based technology enables highly cost-effective, fast, and ubiquitous transactions. In fact, enabling data transfer through sound is being considered as one of the high points of work done in the frictionless connectivity domain because of these factors. Further, data transfer over sound enhances the security aspect, as each tone is unique and is not susceptible to mixing with other tones and background noises. Because of this nature, sound-based transactions are significantly securer than the current solutions in the market.
How do these transactions happen, you wonder?
If you are a customer of a bank or a payment wallet that support the soundwave technology, you will have an option to make payments via this method. At the billing counter, when a merchant will enter the bill amount on the POS or the card swipe machine, the soundwave will process the transaction and a notification for authentication will pop-up on your phone. You will only have to enter the PIN and the payment will be successful.
Both the parties will receive real-time acknowledgement of the payment success. So, transactions through this mode can take place even without smartphones or internet connection at the user's end. This beneficial feature assumes even more importance in a country like India, where although smartphone penetration is rapid, the actual volume is still lower. To put this into perspective, only 24 per cent of all mobile users own a smartphone in India. Moreover, feature phones still dominate in terms of share in sales.
Amid such a scenario, soundwave technology enables fast transactions without the need for infrastructure such as smartphones, internet or communication tools such as NFC technology, which are necessitated by other digital payments players.
Because of this, a massive segment of the Indian population that still uses feature phones will be empowered with the facilitation of digital payments, thus bringing them under the ambit of financial inclusion. Further, this also falls in line with the government's initiatives towards making the country a cashless economy. In this manner, soundwave technology can play a highly instrumental role in the country's development.
Benefits of soundwave technology are aplenty. First, it is inherently inclusive and is not technology and capital intensive. Through unique, frequency-oriented customised messages or offers that would be unique to every customer, it has the potential to achieve the most secure, effective, and engaging man-machine and machine-machine interactions.
Imagine, listening to an ad on the radio while driving your car, which is followed by a unique frequency-oriented soundwave and through your speakers, you make a purchase then and there. While this proposition alone makes it 'sound' fascinating, these transactions are also completely secure, as the unique frequencies utilised by sound-based transactions cannot be hacked into or acquired by third parties without permission.
Even from a core technological perspective, soundwave-based technologies are easier to integrate. The Software Development Kit (SDK) of sound-waves based payment can easily adapt to existing POS terminals, card swipe machines and kiosks. BCG-Google report projects that India's digital payments ecosystem will swell to $500 billion by 2020.
In such a scenario, adopting a mechanism that is the easiest to scale, and yet at a minimal cost with less industrial barriers has the potential for a very high adoption rate. By 2021, more than 668.3 million users of soundwave technology are expected across the world, which fundamentally establishes it as an accepted future payment mechanism.
In a macro-perspective, sound has been an integral part of communication for every being on the planet. From the chirping of birds to the distant roar of thunder, every sound has an associated emotion or feeling, which has been interpreted constantly throughout societies.
The development of language is also a combination of sounds at its core. And in recent times, with Generation Z steadily emerging in and reigning over the financial services space all across the globe, expectations for fun yet safe technologies are at an all-time high. As a result, it was only a matter of time when the sound revolution would enter the domain of transactions, allowing this multitasking generation to carry out an array of activities in the fastest, most efficient, and 'silent' mode possible, albeit through sound.
(The author is the CEO & Co-Founder of ToneTag, a start-up that uses soundwaves to enable payments on devices)