Do all card machines need an internet connection to accept payments?

Do all card machines need an internet connection to accept payments?

With card payments now accounting for over 90% of point-of-sale transactions, according to the British Retail Consortium, it’s safe to say card payments – and contactless card payments – aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

However, considering the sheer size of the global retail share that card payments hold, it is surprising that some people and businesses are not as familiar as they may need to be with the technology behind card payments.

Specifically, whether or not card machines need an internet connection to work. It’s a good question, considering so many applications and technologies rely on the internet nowadays. It’s also important to note if a business is seeking to onboard card machines but is concerned about the level of connectivity on their premises or in a mobile environment.

In this article, we’ll look at how the internet plays a part in card machines and card payments, and whether or not businesses can still accept card payments in the face of connectivity issues.

How do card machines accept payments? 

When a customer inserts their card into a card machine and enters their pin, or taps the card on the machine to pay contactlessly, several things happen in a short space of time.

Firstly, the bank account of the payee is checked to ensure they have the appropriate funds to pay for their goods or services. Then, the money is taken from the payee’s account and transferred to the merchant account of the business.

To perform these functions, modern card machines need some form of internet connection in order to process payments. However, these differ from machine to machine, so if a business is looking to bring new card machines on board – or begin using card machines for the first time – it is important for them to take note of the type of connection needed, depending on the type of machine they intend on using.

How do card machines connect to the internet?

Phone line / Ethernet connections

Before the explosion of the internet, card machines depended on being hooked up to phone lines to accept payments. Fulfilling the connection between the card machine and all involved banks using a dial-up connection, they were much slower than they are today.

However, some card machines still use this or similar technology. Specifically countertop card machines, which are usually affixed to a payment counter in a customer-facing business, like a shop. You’ll normally find these machines linked to a phone line or an internet connection via an ethernet cable.

Because the card machine doesn’t need to move anywhere around the premises, accepting card payments only at a specific point of sale, there’s no need for it to have a wireless internet connection. However, because of the freedom they present and the shift in technology, many businesses now opt for a more modern alternative.


Many card machines now come pre-built with Wi-Fi cards, allowing them to connect to a broadband connection wirelessly. This type of connection is much faster than a phone-line-based connection, completing most payments in a matter of seconds (or even less than one second).

Because they’re able to process transactions without being ‘wired-up’ to the internet, Wi-Fi-enabled card machines are portable, meaning they can be carried around a premises to accept card payments at various points throughout the business. These are ideal for businesses like restaurants, where the card machine is traditionally taken to the customers’ table, saving them the effort of having to line up at the bar to pay.

Today, Wi-Fi-powered card machines make up the majority of machines you’ll find in stores. Even many stores with a fixed point of sale still opt for portable card machines with a Wi-Fi connection, simply for their versatility. But what happens if someone is in an environment where there’s no Wi-Fi or wired connection?

Mobile data

Much like the mobile data connections you’ll find on your smartphone, mobile card machines are able to process payments thanks to their built-in SIM cards. 

Using General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology, these card readers can accept payments virtually anywhere, as long as they’re able to connect to a mobile data signal. This makes them perfect for self-employed contractors who need to travel to different locations for work and accept payments from various clients.

But the beautiful thing about mobile card machines that accept payments using mobile data technology is that they’ll likely improve as the technology continues to evolve.

The effect of the 5G rollout on card machine payments

As the rollout of 5G signals continues to expand across major cities and smaller towns and counties, expect to see the emergence of 5G-enabled card machines that can accept card payments in almost any location, with the same speed of service and reliable connectivity as sedentary broadband connections.

With speeds of up to 20gbps, and the capacity to allow many more users in the same area onto the same network, 5G card machines could help small businesses and independent traders open their services up to an even wider audience while being able to rely on their card machines to accept payments without delay.

Whatever card machine connection you need, choose a reliable card machine vendor

With so many options on the table, it is essential for businesses to place their trust in the hands of reputable, reliable card machine vendors who can provide machines with the specific connectivity they need and have the knowledge to serve their customers well as card machine technology grows.

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