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NFC&ContactlessXL@Amsterdam

We are living in the ecosystem and API age. It would be almost impossible for Apple to have this success for its mobile devices if they didn’t provide the APIs to access the capabilities of their hardware components through their SDK. This API environment created the ecosystem that developed all those applications that people are crazy about. Who would use an iPhone on which you could just make phone calls, send text and e-mails only?

It is the ecosystem that boomed around Apple created its huge success. And it is not just for Apple. Google, Blackberry, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, you name it. The surrounding ecosystem is the key for the success.

NFC and contactless ecosystem is formed by contactless chips, contactless reader chips, SoCs, mobile operating systems, Windows, Linux, Mac operating systems, embedded terminal environments, etc. Companies developing NFC and contactless applications/solutions are connecting those APIs and services together for a broader use case or a product/services.

NFC and contactless ecosystem is still in its early years. Yet, I’ve bumped into this great mentoring program for startup companies focused on NFC and contactless, which I believe is a great step forward for the ecosystem.

It is program of the Startupbootcamp organisation which provides early seed funding and mentoring to the startups. It is a great organisation for creative and talented people to boot up their companies and projects. Now they are on their way to support NFC and contactless projects.

NFC_ContactlessXL

If you have a project or a product on NFC or contactless space, this program is a great opportunity for you. Use this link to explore the NFC&ContactlessXL program which will take place in Amsterdam starting on October 14th, 2013.

I salute the people who have put efforts on this program, good job! I will try to catch up any companies or products that will emerge by the help of it.

Mobile phone reading data from a watch!

Due to an NFC project I am currently involved in, I have an iCarte dongle from WDI. Luckily, I also happen to have a Mifare watch from LAKS from a previous project.

I was browsing the AppStore and found this great app, iCarte Reader by which you can read and write mifare chips over an iPhone with an iCarte dongle. Since I already have a cool mifare gadget, my LAKS watch, I began to impress my friends by using my iPhone to read and write data to my watch!

This is a true contactless show case for me; my phone and watch exchanging data over the contactless interface. How cool is that!

NFC : Hottest trend in many ways

We have seen terrific progress in the NFC world throughout the end of 2010. Here are some highlights:

  • Google released the NFC API for Android with some sample code and NFC applications immediately began to roll out. Here is a good application for exchanging a file between two Android phones via NFC. It simply replaces bluetooth interface. NFC World also posted an article on the first Android NFC apps.
  • Apple has been playing around the NFC for some time and now it seems that Apple will be joining the game -but of course with its own rules. This is another mind opening post on the subject.
  • NFC Forum released a white paper on the use of NFC in Public Transport. This has been another step for setting the boundaries of the path to a contactless future in the public transport, which is quite complicated.
  • Latest contactless iPhone payment application was announced by Yapi Kredi Bank and Turkcell – a joint project by a bank and a mobile network operator. (Available only in Turkish) It is already a commercial product and pre-registration is open for iPhone 3 and 4 owners who already have a Yapi Kredi World Credit Card and a Turkcell SIM card.

It seems that NFC will be one of the hottest topics in 2011 around the smart phone world, public transportation, mobile payments and location based projects.

Turkey’s first mobile payment application from ​​​​​​​​Garanti Bank & Avea​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Garanti Bank and Avea announced the mobile payment application at Cartes 2010 and now it is commercially available in Turkey. It is basically an antenna attached to the SIM card on which there is the PayPass application resides.

The SIM card used is the Gemalto’s N-Flex product. Garanti Bank provides the payment application(s) -there more than one, the default one is a pre-paid application, while Avea is the mobile network operator. The SIM comes with a MasterCard pre-paid application, but you are free to apply to more credit cards once you have the SIM activated. The STK menu allows the user to access the applications for activating and deactivating. You can apply for a pay-as-you-go or a post paid SIM. Post paid costs 40 TL (~20 EUR) and the pre-paid one costs 20 TL (~10 EUR)

It’s a smart move from Garanti Bank, which is clearly the market leader on the contactless space in the Turkish market. The pre-installed MasterCard pre-paid application on the SIM is also a nice touch since you do not have to go through the credit card application process. It’s sold through Ave’s distribution network since you have to activate the SIM first. The product is also backed with a bonus balance of 25 TL (~12 EUR) and 100 minutes air time if you apply before the new year. There is a nice video explaining the product to end users on the product’s official web site here. (Only in Turkish)

Another product announcement at Cartes was from Bank Asya, which is almost the same service but specific to mifare based Turkish Toll Payment system for highways.

With the add-on features and the successful start-up campaign, I personally find the product highly innovative based on the current hardware and software available in the market. As a wish, I am hoping these products to build the user acceptance of the mobile payments and make the bridge between the antenna chip to SWP chips.

Nexus S

Google announced the first mainstream Android based NFC handset, Nexus S. Unlike the first Nexus, it is not an HTC device but basically a derivative product of the Samsung Galaxy S family. Even though it has its shortages, this is a huge step for the NFC era.

According to the official information, Nexus S has NXP’s PN544 NFC Controller which is compliant with SWP. That means the handset is compliant with the latest trend in the NFC world which is handing over the power to MNO and/or banks on the secure element. However, sadly, current software stack does not support access to the secure element -the SIM. This means you that can only read/write NFC tags. NFC feature can be enabled/disabled through Android settings, just like the bluetooth radio.

It will not be usable for the big ongoing pilot projects that mainly utilizes the NFC chips as a payment/ticketing media. (Unless new features will be available later on) It can only be used for reading NFC tags which will basically forward the browser to a certain URL or for reading data from a poster, etc. Or for checking in to places or venues via the handset. There is also a big opportunity to use the handset as a coupon media which is a popular business in the US -but not in Europe.

These features make me think that this is an initial device for testing the technology for non-financial projects. The popularity of the applications/projects will lead to more devices with more functionality. It is a big step for the NFC world because now an open mobile platform officially has the support for the NFC functionality and the first handset is already commercially available.

Android jumps on the NFC bandwagon

As many of the authorities agree, Android is the most promising mobile platform. It is now the second after Symbian (bypassing iOS) and it is on the rise to the top. NFC support for Android was already under development and it was rumoured that the latest Android version 2.3 Gingerbread will officially support NFC. This was confirmed at the Web 2.0 Summit during the discussion session with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google with Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle.

He even demonstrated an NFC tag reading application that opened the location of the tag on Google Map. The full session can be watched on Youtube here.

After Nokia and Apple’s patents and applications on NFC, now Android has committed in to the NFC space. In general, banks and telco operators have already had many pilot programs and now the picture is almost complete with one little actor missing: the device manufacturers! Unfortunately there are too little number of handsets with NFC support.

Anyway, let’s look at the bright side. Now that all major mobile platforms officially support NFC, application developers can have a wider range of users. Mobile application markets have already solved the distribution problems, now the it is time for the -hopefully- gold rush!

Here are an idea of an NFC project other than obvious payment and ticketing applications:

Imagine check ins with Foursquare over the NFC tags attached to the cashier desks of the venues with NFC supported handsets. These tags (not necessarily just tags) can offer discounts based on the check ins for a specific time frame. Or even based on a pattern like buying gas from a certain network and then buying food from a certain supermarket chain. It can even trigger a payment application residing next to the coupon application.

The only question remains here is when?

Embedded contactless reader for PCs from Sony and HID

Sony announced a very good news today for the contactless world. Sony and HID Global forms an alliance to create an embedded contactless reader for PCs. Sony, being one of the pioneers in the contactless technology, will be incorporating with HID, which acquired Omnikey -one of the best PC connected reader manufacturers, for building an embedded contactless reader.

Sony is already an influencer of contactless technology; they own their own contactless chip –Felica– and they are playing a huge role on the NFC area. Needless to say, Sony has huge opportunities on their home entertainment products from Play Station 3 to wide screen TVs and Vaio laptop line up for integrating with NFC based chips.

On the other hand, HID has a wide range of products in identity and security markets. I personally admire the PC connected Omnikey readers a lot, very robust and has a great support in terms of drivers and software.

I believe a contactless reader may eventually become a standard peripheral device for PCs, if this attempt is successfully completed. I can imagine how wide range of applications can be developed once the computers have embedded contactless readers. People can top up or check their balances/transaction history of transportation cards at home, (which is already being done in far east right now) process credit card transactions for shopping online or buy airtime for their NFC handsets. I had personally seen an embedded Felica reader in action on a Sony guy I had a meeting with, so this is not a long run. It just needs the right actors to be involved in the picture.

All contactless readers support both ISO 1443 type A and B, so these readers will support all current contactless chips that are available like Mifare, Calypso, Legic, etc. Of course that will bring a lot of political discussion over software and ownership of the reader IC, but for now let’s cross fingers for Sony and HID!

Fast track at the airport : TAV Passport Card

Passing through airport gates and check in procedures always require a very long time to be spent in the airports. Thanks to contactless devices, that may be history.

Contactless ecosystem and airport check in services has much to offer together. TAV Passport card is no exception in that sense. TAV is the operator of biggest 3 airports in Turkey -and a few more in neighboring countries. They are doing excellent job in running these airports, yet they developed a contactless card for frequent flyers.

TAV Card is a contactless card -mifare 1k- offering:

  • a special gate for fast entrance to airport
  • business check in -regardless from your ticket type
  • free parking at the airport parking area for 30 days/year
  • airport transfers
  • fast passport control at a special gate for TAV card holders
  • discount rates at duty free
  • discount rates at the coffee shops at the airport

It’s a very well designed product for frequent flyers which need speed and convenience on the time they spend at the airport. Contactless devices provide these requirements, so it’s the correct choice to use a contactless card.

Castle POS terminals were used and credits go to Verisoft for developing the whole system.

Guitar with a contactless reader

One thing I really love -other than contactless systems, of course- is the music. Although not being able to play as much as I did in the past, I’ve been playing guitar for years. When I bumped into the article of Mobile Money Exchange, I was really excited: The guitar of the street band has a contactless reader attached to the headstock and it accepts contactless cards. What an innovative idea!

When you see a street band in a metro or on the street, the main motivation of giving a few bucks is to support the musicians. But these guys have even better idea, they are supporting some charity and a contactless readers ensures this, simply because there’s no cash included! When you wave your Barclays contactless card against the headstock of the guitar, you simply donate a fixed amount of money to a charity. (Help a London Child, in this case for 5 pounds)

I love the idea and I am now hoping this idea to be implemented by transport operators, banks, loyalty system providers who are actively using contactless cards.

EMVCo released handset requirements for contactless mobile payment

By maintaining the specifications of the banking card applications, EMVCo has a huge effect on banking card business. Visa and MasterCard developed their own implementations (VSDC and M/Chip respectively) based on EMV specifications. They are almost identical, they have a few configuration changes. Contactless applications payWave and PayPass are also based on EMV specifications, however they were developed before EMVCo released a contactless specification.

It seems EMVCo is ahead of Visa and MasterCard this time, they released requirements for contactless payments by handsets. There are already implementations of Visa and MasterCard’s applications on handsets, but all of them have been dropped before launch -after pilot phase.

Basically, a mobile application is a user interface for accessing the EMV compliant payment application running on the secure element of the handset. Secure element can reside on the NFC controller of the handset or on the SIM card.

What EMVCo requires for these applications are;

  • Application should have a soft/hard key for easy access. If it’s a soft key, it must be accessible from the main/home screen.
  • Application should inform the handset/card holder when a contactless transaction is in place.
  • Application should be secured by a password and it should be configurable to enable/disable the application.
  • There should be an indication of contactless capability, just like the bluetooth icon.
  • Handset shall provide a mechanism to notify the application when it is powered off.

It is a good effort to draw the boundaries of the environment and will lead the players in the industry to have a single user experience. It seems we will see more mobile payment applications on the market -hopefully in the commercial level rather than pilots.

Original document can be found here.