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Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Deutsche Telekom execs claim Apple will support e-wallet NFC this year

Executives from Germany's Deutsche Telekom, which is the parent company of T-Mobile, listed Apple among a number of other companies set to support near-field communication e-wallet payments in 2011 at a Mobile World Congress press conference on Tuesday.

According to Engadget, the company officials specifically mentioned Apple during a live event on Tuesday. However, Apple's name was unsurprisingly not included in a subsequent press release.

Deutsche Telekom is pushing a "Mobile Wallet" service in 2011 with its T-Mobile subsidiaries, including the U.S. network. Apple's iPhone is available on T-Mobile networks around the world, though not in America.

As discovered by AppleInsider in January, Apple was looking to hire RFID and payment platform experts for its iPhone team. Radio-frequency identification is a type of near-field communications that can be used to wirelessly transmit secure data in close proximity, and an NFC chip can be used for a variety of potential activities, including the ability to turn a mobile device into an "e-wallet" for retail transactions.

In addition, last month 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. Doherty claimed that Apple plans to add NFC chips to its anticipated "iPad 2" and "iPhone 5" in 2011.

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

If Deutsche Telekom executives mentioning Apple on Tuesday was a slip-up based on real plans and was not just a mistake, it would suggest that Apple's rumored NFC chip would be compatible with other mobile payment services, and not just one created by the Cupertino, Calif., company.

Apple's alleged interest in NFC technology has been growing for years, as in 2009 it was claimed that the company was already testing RFID support in iPhone prototypes. Then a year later, another report said the company had built RFID-equipped handsets with hardware from NXP Semiconductor.

Last year, Apple also hired Benjamin Vigler, formerly the project manager for mobile wallet, payment and NFC and mFoundry, a company that specializes in mobiel payments. Vigler is considered an expert on NFC technology, and has been working with it since 2004.