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Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 09:40 am PT (12:40 pm ET)

Apple seeks RFID, payment platform experts, fueling iPhone e-wallet rumors

As rumors of a near-field communications chip in Apple's next-generation iPhone surface, the company is looking to bolster its team with a hardware engineer familiar with radio-frequency identification (RFID), as well as experts on global payment platforms.

AppleInsider has discovered that Apple this week put out a call for a test engineer for iPhone hardware. The company seeks an extremely well qualified candidate, preferably with a Ph.D., who has expertise on a range of subjects.

Among the required areas of knowledge is RFID, a type of near-field communications that can be used to wirelessly transmit secure data in close proximity. An NFC chip can be used for a variety of potential activities, including the ability to turn a mobile device, like an iPhone, into an "e-wallet" for retail transactions.

The job listing comes as a new rumor this week claimed that Apple is finalizing an e-wallet strategy for this year's anticipated iPhone 5, as well as the second-generation iPad. Richard Doherty, director of the consulting firm Envisioneering Group, claimed that Apple plans to start its own mobile payment service for use at retail stores as early as mid-2011.

The rumored service could rely on a revamped iTunes that would directly handle transactions. It was said that Apple has already built a prototype payment terminal intended for small businesses, and the company may "heavily" subsidize or give away the hardware to retailers to encourage rapid adoption of NFC technology.

For Apple to transform customers' iTunes accounts into a payment processing service would be a major overhaul, but two more job listings from Apple could hint at those plans. The company is looking to hire at least two people (1, 2) for the position of "Manager Global Payment Platforms."

The job description says that the position will require someone to manage customer payment options and business partnerships to allow the purchase of Apple products in its online store, iTunes, and in retail stores. It also invites applicants who "want to be part of something big."

Apple seeks a candidate who will "explore new global payment initiatives and expansion," and "research and understand global payment rules and regulations." The position will require the employee to assist in managing partnerships with banks and payment processor, and also work with outside business partners and vendors on operational issues.

While the job listing makes no specific mention of a new e-wallet venture from Apple, the timing of the postings this week is noteworthy as rumors of an NFC-equipped iPhone resurface.

Reports of Apple's alleged interest in NFC technology are not new. In 2009 it was claimed that Apple was already testing RFID swipe support in prototype iPhone models, while another report a year later said that Apple had built RFID-equipped handsets with hardware from NXP Semiconductor.

Last year Apple also hired Benjamin Vigier, who has been working with NFC technology since 2004. Previously, Vigier was the project manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC at mFoundry, a company that specializes in mobile payments.