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NFC ready to fly

Posted: 29 Jun 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NFC technology? NFC trends worldwide? wireless?

Since NFC's inception in 2002, several projects related to the short-range wireless technology have made the headlines. NFC proved to be promising, with more than 200 trials and deployments performed worldwide.

But as with every new technology, there lies a challenge: to get it to move further forward worldwide.

Dan Shey, ABI Research practice director, said that the NFC market has not met early expectations. Shey added that it was a failure not of technology, but of unclear business models. Other experts also noted that there is a need for a complete ecosystem for NFC to truly gain traction worldwide.

Where is NFC now in terms of its worldwide grip?

In 2004, the NFC Forum was co-founded by NXP to drive the technology's standardization and to propel it to different types of applications. To date, the group has 150 members.

"Those members come from banks, telecoms companies and even competitors of NXP," said Steve Owen, VP of global marketing and sales identification at NXP. "What's been taking place over the last five years is building on the ecosystem: how to have the right products [and] the right technology so that the consumers can enjoy the use of contactless applications."

The PN544 supports three main architectures that are used to secure NFC transactions.

Specs release
Last month, the industry group has released two NFC specifications: the NFC Digital Protocol specification, which addresses the digital protocol for NFC-enabled device communication; and the NFC Logical Link Control Protocol, which defines an OSI layer-2 protocol to support peer-to-peer communication between two NFC-enabled devices.

In March, the European Telecommunications Standard Institute (ETSI) standardized the NFC SIM interface, which according to NXP, brings NFC one step closer to mass adoption.

In addition to an industry organization and standardization efforts, NFC received another shot in the arm with NXP's launch of PN544, which is claimed to be the world's first industry-standard NFC controller. The PN544 is based on ETSI's NFC specifications, thus enabling contactless applications such as mobile payments, transport ticketing and event ticketing, and data sharing via a mobile phone.

The PN544 supports three main architectures that are used to secure NFC transactions, thus addressing the needs of manufacturers concerned with secure transactions.

NXP's NFC controller is now sampling, and users can expect products coming soon. "Mobile phone manufacturers are now moving forward with devices," Owen said. "You'll see [them] in Q4. SIM-based solutions will start becoming available."

Nokia has already announced that it'll release products based on the NFC controller. Other Asian manufacturers are also interested with PN544, according to Owen. But he didn't drop company names.

With an NFC controller available for sampling, Owen expects banks and public transport operators to have downloadable applications via NFC-enabled devices in the future.

"The bank [transactions] will be done in a more secure way, and it may come with a SIM card," Owen said. "But you will have other companies that will interact with consumers via the banking product or via the telecommunications company. It may be on their Website."

The automotive segment also has a spot for NFC, as demonstrated by the NXP-and-BMW trial involving a car key that featured the technology along with a secure element.

Owen: "In terms of contactless technologies, a number of countries around the world are seeing the downturn as an opportunity to stimulate investment in infrastructure."

Factoring in the economy
NFC development doesn't appear to be affected by the global economic climate, as seen today by Owen.

"Even with the downturn, we continued investment and release of this product [PN544]," Owen said. "The mobile phone manufacturers have continued their programs. They haven't delayed their programs and research to bring these phones to market. They still have same time scale. All continued at the speed that they said they were going to do. So there's not been a cancellation that we're not going to do this."

In fact, trials and deployments have taken place and finished amidst the crunch. And as mentioned earlier, specifications also have been announced.

"And now they're looking at the next phase," Owen said. "In terms of contactless technologies, a number of countries around the world are seeing the downturn as an opportunity to stimulate investment in infrastructure."

"Take China for example," Owen cited. He shared that there will be more than 130 projects to take place in the next couple of years in China involving contactless technologies.

Consumer adoption
Chip companies, handset manufacturers and industry organizations are doing their part to push NFC forward. Users, meanwhile, are showing no signs of resistance to the technology. In fact, ABI Research's Shey dubs NFC the "holy grail" that provides the easiest user experience.

"The biggest challenge we've had was actually getting the phones back from the consumers at the end of the trials," Owen shared. "They didn't want to give them back. That's the case in almost every single trial, where supermarkets and transport operators said 'The trial is over. Now we stop doing it.' [Consumers] would complain 'Why can't you just keep it running?'"

According to Mark Chisholm, NXP Asia Pacific's public relations manager, Nokia is a good example of a company that will help drive NFC forward. "Once established, then I think a lot of other companies will join to add extra services and bring extra applications to consumers," he explained. "I definitely think the mobile phone consumers are a really strong argument for the introduction of NFC."

Furthermore, Chisholm said, "I think NFC is a very enabling technology." In the past few months, reports on NFC have shown that the technology "hasn't taken off as quickly as it could have." It may be because of the recession or the ecosystem, he said. "But I think the key pieces of the puzzle are now in place for it to really take off."

- EE Times-Asia

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