Big Idea

Ka-ching!

A Bengaluru-based start-up is using sound waves to transfer data, which could change the way digital payments are being done

RA Candroo

Recall that time you were fumbling for change after buying a cigarette from the corner shop. While you were foraging in your wallet and pockets, another guy — a regular — may have stopped by, picked up the same cigarette and walked away, after a nod to the shopkeeper. How simple life would have been if payments were as simple as that nod! Bengaluru-based start-up, ToneTag believes it could be, with its technology. 

From digital wallets and united-payments interface (UPI) to quick response (QR) codes, the digital payment ecosystem in India has been evolving. However, many of us have found ourselves in that embarrassing situation of not being able to make payments using our mobiles because of poor connectivity. Merchants are often left waiting long for a payment confirmation SMS, which may not even come during rush hours. They also stand a chance of being cheated by wily customers — who show a confirmation message from a previous transaction, to escape paying for the recent one. ToneTag is therefore working on a transaction method that neither requires an internet connection or a smartphone. All a buyer would need to do is ‘tap’ into the waves of natural sounds that surround us. 

Tonetag’s software helps clients — such as payment gateways, banks or e-tailers — provide contactless, offline payments from one device to another in close proximity. It does not transfer money but transfers data over sound waves. Payment is only one of its potential uses. “We picked payments first because it is easy for people to relate to, and understand this technology through this,” says Kumar Abhishek, CEO and co-founder of ToneTag. 

The start-up’s team is trying to patent its technology. “We are the only player in the world that enables communication between two machines — between two phones (even feature phones) or between a phone and another device, say a card swiping machine, toll plaza, an ATM machine or a vending machine — using sound waves,” says Abhishek. Near-field communication (NFC) too helps transfer data between two devices placed closed to e

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