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Report: Software gap threatens NFC takeoff

Posted: 30 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NFC software gap? mobile payment? Ethernet?

While NFC is expected to take off as early as 2010 for mobile payment systems using cellphones, significant pieces of the software infrastructure for this market are missing and silicon opportunities in the technology may be limited.

This is the conclusion of a new report that will be available online in May from the EE Times market intelligence unit. The group previously produced reports on topics including the road map to 100Gbit/s Ethernet and the outlook for Advanced TCA systems.

"A true mobile-payments market likely will not emerge until 2010," said Loring Wirbel, a veteran EE Times editor who heads the new market research effort. "If investment-bank conservatism spreads to the consumer banking community, this could postpone mobile-payment NFC to the next decade," he added.

Wirbel said the handful of existing NFC chipmakers characterize the market as still in a stage of expanding trials. They do not expect to see "even moderate volumes of controller sales before mid-2009 or later," he wrote.

One of the key gating items for this market is the development of "a broad ecosystem of card-reader subsystems, system-integration tools, and dedicated application software," according to the report. That includes "support software and backend billing services," which need to define models for handling secure transactions, Wirbel wrote.

The report also notes that cellphone makers have been conservative about integrating NFC into handsets to date, given the number and complexity of radios handsets already support. Similarly, the software and systems integration companies needed to support mobile payment systems are stepping forward cautiously, Wirbel said.

Silicon roadblock
In terms of silicon, "it is unlikely that more than three or four semiconductor players will be able to sustain a position in this market," the report said.

Specifically, Wirbel called for chipmakers STMicroelectronics and NXP to rationalize their NFC products in the wake of the recent merger of their cellular chip divisions. "They should think seriously about developing a common architecture that takes a best-of-both-worlds approach," Wirbel said.

The NFC chips from Inside Contactless are among the most mature to date because they combine hardwired NFC blocks with programmable capabilities for changing security standards, according to Wirbel. Whether other potential players such as Atmel and Qualcomm jump into this market remains to be seen, he added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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