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What’s the difference between countertop and mobile card payment terminals?

How to choose the right merchant services?

Mobile card paymentCountertop and mobile card payment terminals are two broad categories of credit card terminals or PDQ machines.


Also called desktop card terminals, wired card terminals or fixed card terminals, countertop card payment terminals are physically connected to the till or Point of Sale system. They are made for indoor use, and sit just next to the till, on the counter.


They may either come:

-        In separate devices – keypad, card reader, customer display, printer,

-        Or as a standalone terminal.


Discriminating features include:

-        Display type (greyscale, colour, touch),

-        Connection type (USB, Ethernet),

-        And of course supported payment methods (swipe, chip-and-PIN, contactless...).


Mobile credit card payment terminals, in a broad sense, include all credit card terminals which connect with the till or Point of Sale system wirelessly. While some include wireless card terminals using Bluetooth or Wifi connection, which can be used up to 100 metres away from their base, true mobile card payment terminals rely on mobile phone signals to be able to operate nearly anywhere.


A further distinction can be made between:

-        Mobile card payment terminals with a built-in modem, which are standalone devices incuding keypad, card reader and printer,

-        Mobile card payment terminals using a connection with a mobile phone, used as a modem, to connect to cellular networks – these are newer models, usually simple card readers with or without a PIN-pad, which let the mobile phone and dedicated software do almost all the job.


As a last addition to this comparison of credit card terminals, virtual terminals should be mentioned. This last kind of card terminal is one used to make online payments by credit card possible.

  • For what type of business does it make sense to use a card terminal?
  • Which credit card machine is right for a small business?
  • Is it possible to hire a credit card terminal for a short time?
  • How to choose the best credit card machine?
  • When should I consider a card terminal from a supplier other than my merchant bank?