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Large NFC trial under way in Seoul

Posted: 01 Jul 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Selena Salang? Philips Semiconductors? SK Telecom? SKT? near-field communication?

Duverne: We'll have this six-month period to work on helping SKT make a number of technology choices.

Philips Semiconductors and SK Telecom (SKT), Korea's leading telecom service provider, have agreed to cooperate on a large-scale, six-month field trial for near-field communication (NFC) in Seoul, Korea. The joint effort is aimed at creating NFC solutions for network operators, and driving the development and deployment of NFC in Korea and beyond.

Along with local partners, the two companies are conducting the field trial!which began in June!within SKT office buildings, providing 400 SKT employees and visitors with NFC-enabled mobile phones that will give them access to services and applications such as payment, ticketing, content download and access control.

"SKT is a prominent wireless carrier that is very innovative when it comes to mobile-based services, particularly mobile payment and ticketing," said Christophe Duverne, VP and general manager of identification at Philips Semiconductors and chairman of the NFC Forum. "Having the company endorse the NFC technology for us is a strong sign of its viability."

This is the largest NFC trial in the world so far, and the second trial being done in Asia. In September 2005, trials were held in Taiwan for a prototype NFC-enabled handset that can access Taiwan's public transport network.

Plug-and-play option
NFC is a short-range (10cm) wireless technology that aims to combine the functions of a contactless smart card and a reader into one device. It operates in half-duplex mode in an unregulated band at 13.56MHz and can perform secure smart-card emulation, peer-to-peer data transfer and information access.

Two implementations of NFC are in use for the Korea trial: 200 mobile phones have an NFC chip embedded in the design, while 200 more handsets use a plug and play extension. "Providing a plug-and-play option is a way to create scale and do the trials cost-effectively, since handsets won't have to be replaced," Duverne said. This alternative implementation could be sold aftermarket to consumers who want to use NFC in their existing handsets.

Duverne added that SKT is using the trial to better understand the technology and how consumers will interact with it. Trial results will be used to evaluate consumer preferences to ensure that NFC phones will meet their expectations. "We'll have this six-month period to work on helping SKT make a number of technology choices," he said.

Extra services
What makes NFC compelling, Duverne said, is that it embeds contactless smart-card technology into cellphones to offer more services and applications. Since the technology works at a very short range, transactions such as contactless payment, ticketing and access control will be secure enough to be done through mobile phones.

Applications offered during the SKT trial involve users paying with their NFC-enabled handsets at select retail locations with NFC-equipped payment terminals, as well as gaining access to public transportation systems or schedules using their NFC phones. NFC is also used for identification and access control, giving employees access to the SKT headquarters in Seoul in place of the SKT corporate badge.

Another application SKT chose for the Korea trial is the active poster, Duverne said. Posters will be embedded with content such as ticket information, ringtones and wallpaper for mobile phones, which can be accessed by swiping the NFC handset near an NFC logo. In previous NFC demonstrations, a poster for a concert was embedded with a URL, which, when accessed with an NFC phone, directed the user to the Website of the artist.

"The technology enables operators to do a lot of promotional applications in a very convenient way," said Duverne.

More trials in Asia
Encouraged by the success of previous NFC trials, such as in Germany!which recently moved into a commercial service!and Taiwan, Philips is cooperating with Asian operators on more trials that will become public in the coming months.

"We see that the technology is well-accepted in Asia-Pacific, so it's probably the area where NFC will be adopted in large volumes more quickly. We see commercial deployments taking place here in the latter part of 2006," Duverne said. He sees China as a good candidate for quick adoption due to its "strong contactless infrastructure in transportation and a strong wireless infrastructure," but acknowledges that Japan and Korea are also advanced in contactless smart-card technology.

"I would definitely not exclude the Philippines because the country has some interesting developments in the wireless world, especially in relation to payment. Thailand will probably adopt NFC to a degree as well. There's a lot of stuff happening in this region, so it's hard to tell specifically which country will be the first to adopt NFC technology," said Duverne.

Not just in handsets
In the future, NFC may be embedded in other devices due to its suitability for use in connectivity applications. "NFC is complementary and fully backward-compatible," Duverne explained. "It can be used to trigger or initiate other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. For example, if you want to initiate a Bluetooth connection between a handset and a PC, you can bring the NFC handset up to a PC marked by the NFC logo. Communication is then initiated and will continue over Bluetooth even after the two devices are pulled apart."

NFC can also be used at wireless access points to simplify the initiation and transfer of security profiles. Security profiles and addresses can be stored in a contactless card that can be taken from device to device to initiate profiling.

"The first devices will probably be dongle-based!in the form of SD cards that are NFC-enabled!and built into PCs and consumer electronics devices in late 2006 through 2007," said Duverne.

- Selena Salang
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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