East, West and Russia – who is really behind in the technology race?


August 21, 2015

Russky Tatarin


Translated for Fort Russ by Soviet Bear

This was inspired by the post of a friend about the fact that in Riga the low income kids will be getting food at schools by special cards. He could not believe, somehow, that in Russia and in Moscow meals in schools are already distributed by cards (of course not everywhere), and special cards too. What I’m talking about? I’m talking about a strange myth that is present in the minds of some Russian people that “Oh, the West is certainly more advanced”. That there is an ostensibly serious “technological gap” between the West and Russia.

It’s very strange, especially that many people do travel to the West from Moscow. Look, whether we are talking about payment business and many related technologies, this “gap” is more in OUR favor.

Guys, you take a look at this industry. If we take Moscow and major cities, in terms of different cards, IDs, payment infrastructure (which we somehow don’t appreciate), innovations in retail, and so on, we do not lag behind, and in many ways are ahead of the West.

Just a few obvious examples.

  • Do you know that the subway in Munich, Germany is still using paper tickets and ticket punchers as in Russian buses in the early 90s? Cards with MIFARE chip, as we have – it’s just an elusive dream, and the “Oyster” card in London is less advanced than our “Troyka”. I hope, it is clear that there is no Wi-Fi in the London subway, NY and Munich and it is not even planned?

  • Do you know that to pay for the local cellphone services in Riga, Latvia you need to find a newpaper kiosk, give the cash to the seller, who will give you some long activation code which you will have to send in an SMS to the operator? No amenities in the form of payment terminals at each corner, where you can insert the cash and which in a few seconds will turn into virtual money on any possible account – there is no such thing in Latvia neither in Western Europe nor in the USA.

  • Do you know what impressed (and he said this during the welcome speech at the first press conference after his appointment) the current head of Visa in Russia, Andrew Torre? The fact that you can pay for mobile services or put money in a Sberbank account by just sending an SMS with the amount of money and account (or phone) number to the short ‘900’ number. For him, it was and unheard of for Europe INNOVATION.

  • Are you aware that there is no more successful mass (I mean as popular) online bank “without branches” as Tinkoff Bank in Russia abroad and those analogues that exist in the West are in fact, just experiments for “more advanced” audience?

  • Are you aware that in the U.S. in 2015, more than 2 million subscribers of major Telecom operator AOL still use dial-up Internet? Yes, this is a thing from our 90’s, when you connect modem to the telephone line and dial for a connection.

  • Are you aware that in the United States, millions of mobile subscribers are still using the analog AMPS 900 standard that “died” in Russia without a beginning?

  • You know that besides the fact that in the U.S. people vehemently oppose chip cards and NFC is referred to as an overseas novelty even in large cities, PAY CHECKS are still widespread? Yes, paper checks that they issue in a bank branch, and then you need to go to “cash them out” – where you’ll be probably charged some money for cashing?

  • By the way CHECK ACCEPTING MODULE(!!!) instead of cards is considered a super-advanced novelty in their ATMs. But the bulk of the functionality of our Russian ATMs (which features of cellphone payment, card to card transfers, payment of utility bills and public services) is considered to be an incredible, “innovative” luxury which is shown at trade exhibitions as a new achievement?

  • Are you aware that at the Western retail conferences they discuss a model of self-delivery from stores after ordering on the Internet, which we already have, as something new and unusual?

And there are a lot of such examples. You can go on and on. Yes there is the clearest example – “Uber”. Western luddites not just protest against this real innovation and crush the cars, but also PROHIBIT them at the state level – as for example in France. Meanwhile, we have it, as well as similar services – “Gett” and “Yandex Taxi”. And this is considered NORMAL.

Understand at last, dear friends, the modern Western world in the sense of everyday life of the masses of people is far BEHIND Moscow. Another example is the technological scheme, which produces millions of social cards of a Muscovite – with a platform, where a single chip has a dual interface and three applications, one of which is able to emulate MIFARE card – is a routine for us, but for the West – an expensive “innovation”, and their countries can only dream of the implementation of it on such scale.

And the same thing in many, many cases. So meal cards in schools – it’s just a small thing, in which we are AHEAD of Europe.

But who we (and the West) are hopelessly behind – is the EAST! The real high-tech, mass innovation and the world of tomorrow is ASIA. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea. That is where you can pay in stores and withdraw cash with a scan of your palm, that’s where the most advanced transportation cards are, there is a mass payment for everything with phones, as with NFC and QR codes on the screen (130 thousand stores in China accept payments with the electronic purse Alipay QR-code – including local Walmart, IKEA, etc.), and even with such technology as mobile payments  with “ultrasound” (the phone generates ultrasonic one-use password for the transaction of direct debit of the mobile wallet) – only in China 36 thousand vending machines operate like that.

Do you know that the most advanced (and issued to the citizens by tens of millions) is the ID card – e-passport in Pakistan? Yes, yes, not in Germany, but in Pakistan.

So you can throw away this decrepit eurocentrism to the dustbin of history – the West is (and it was long since) not the technological leader of the world. They can’t even produce their own Apple – “just in case”. There are no facilities. The leader is Asia. And our “lag” from the West in technology is just imaginary.

By the way – my personal opinion – we are behind in the payment technology from the East because for two decades stupidly followed in line with the slow technological discourse of two impossibly bureaucratic Western payment systems – Visa and MasterCard (although in the fat years, took from them the most expensive and new). As a result, now we creak trying to teach citizens to use non-contact technologies at least with the cards (I’m not talking about phones), and in China, where the NFC was dumped as an expensive venture, millions of citizens are already paying with phones without any NFC en masse.

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