Google has put an unlocked version of its Galaxy Nexus Android phone on sale for GSM networks in the United States, which would open up the Google Wallet to customers of ATT and T-Mobile.
The move comes just a couple of days after Google’s sole mobile carrier partner for its wallet, Sprint, released three new phones supporting the NFC-based wallet, including a 4G LTE version of the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus. Sprint also released the LG Optimus Elite and LG Viper 4G LTE.
The launch of the additional Sprint phones supporting the wallet had already been announced. They are part of 10-plus phones the No. 3 U.S. carrier plans to put on sale this year supporting the wallet, Google’s wallet chief, Osama Bedier, said in February. The LG Optimus Elite is also available with the Google Wallet on Sprint’s Virgin Mobile USA prepaid brand.
The unlocked version of the Galaxy Nexus is a new development, with Google now selling phones directly again, as it did with its first Nexus Android smartphone in 2010. It opened up a new “Devices” section for U.S. consumers in its Google Play Web store, formerly known as Android Market.
In a blog post today, Andy Rubin, Google’s senior vice president of mobile and digital content, said the unlocked Galaxy Nexus will only be available in the U.S., at least for now, selling for an unsubsidized $399.
“You can use it on the GSM network of your choice, including T-Mobile and ATT,” wrote Rubin. “It also comes preinstalled with the Google Wallet app, which lets you easily make purchases and redeem offers with a tap of your phone.”
The Galaxy Nexus comes with an embedded secure chip, which hosts the payment and other wallet applications. Google controls the chip, so it does not have to depend on either ATT or T-Mobile to support the wallet.
These telcos, which are planning to use SIM cards as their preferred secure element, intend to launch their own NFC wallet this summer as part of their Isis joint venture with Verizon Wireless.
Verizon’s network does not run on GSM technology so Verizon subscribers will not be able to use the unlocked version of the Galaxy Nexus. The telco has been seen to be blocking use of the Google Wallet on its own version of the Galaxy Nexus.
The unlocked Galaxy Nexus and three additional Android phones supporting the wallet on Sprint represent the first positive developments for the struggling Google Wallet in months.
Up until the release of the new Sprint phones Sunday, there was only one model that officially supported the wallet, Sprint’s Nexas S 4G.
There remains only one major bank, Citigroup, issuing a payment application for the wallet, in addition to the Google Prepaid Card. Google also has announced no major new retail chains supporting the wallet since the original wallet announcement last year, though it has added some smaller merchants.
These wallet merchants can accept offers or other promotions in addition to the MasterCard PayPass-based contactless payment applications in the wallet. Google launched the wallet last September.
Google has recently announced a couple of discount offers at a few wallet merchants in one or more cities and continues to offer a $10 credit for users who activate the wallet and set up the prepaid card. Sprint is offering a total $50 in prepaid credit for customers who buy the Galaxy Nexus 4G, activate the wallet and open a prepaid card account. The offers are good for a limited time.
“It’s still very early days for mobile payments, and we know (it) will take time to build a mobile-commerce ecosystem, but we’re very committed to this goal and are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to date,” a Google spokesman said today.