Further afield – NFC still missing?

Further afield
still looking further afield?

Rumours are circulating that the iPhone 5 will not now have NFC (Near Field Communication). It’s a big ‘Stand Down’ message for all those excited by the potential which stood to be unleashed by the new over-the-air medium which revolutionised quick payments on London Underground system. You can almost hear the disappointed groan, like children who’d been promised a rise of pocket money.

It would appear that standardising the medium was more problematic than first imagined. Apple is rumoured to be developing its own NFC standard that will link to iTunes and the 200 million-plus consumers who have registered their credit card information with Apple, but this would still be moot point for regulators.

And it stands to reason.

An O2 press release was issued on 28th November 2007 celebrating the first large scale UK pilot of NFC, in collaboration with Nokia, Transport for London, Visa Europe, Barclaycard, Transys and AEG. That’s a while ago now. And the mobile NFC progress in the UK since that pilot?  Um.. after you Apple, whenever you’re ready guys.

To deploy NFC solutions themselves might be a comparative no-brainer and RFID solutions are already enjoying successful use in field enterprise for tasks such as asset management. But to implement secure standards around them in the consumer market appears rather more complex. Not renowned for grasping technically complicated nettles with added regulatory implications (also see age verification), perhaps the networks have stood off and waited for manufacturers to approach them with something that fits better.

With the news that termination rates for voice calls are set to significantly drop, the attention to monetising data and increasing new revenue streams for mobile is increasingly urgent. That’s despite a theory that NFC has stronger value away from payments and transactions, but in virtual currency too. Surely though, revenue share agreements are still there to be had, the NFC wealth would be shared and ripple through the market.

This widely discussed stalling of NFC for the iPhone 5 could be welcomed by Apple’s rivals – particularly the inexorable Android.  Indeed, closely followed the iPhone 5 rumour was news of Google picking up the NFC baton.  But only in the form of yet another mobile payment pilot test, this one with VeriFone in New York and San Francisco.  Who knows how different this is from the O2, Nokia, TfL pilot of 2007/08?

Testing is all well and good, and perhaps this latest Google effort will lead to something, but more high-level tests aren’t what the industry is looking for.  It’s looking for wide-spread, secure implementation through an iPhone or an Android: a full rollout which will see NFC floodgates finally start to creak ajar.   This is what was hoped for in the iPhone 5, so the failure to deliver presents another disappointment for the wider ecosystem, the agency creatives and those ‘nearly’ men of NFC evangelism (pun intended, sorry).

We were excited in 2007 and we’re still excited now, in 2011. Surely there’s a limit to the false dawns and patience and ifs and buts.

Still, here we are. Sorry son, here’s a fiver and a Bluetooth app. Maybe next year.

consumer experience, enterprise solutions, technologies

NFC – miles away or nearly there?

Here already in vertical markets * Sleeping giant of consumer banking beginning to stir…

Here’s another blog about NFC (Near Field Communication), the technology which enables Oyster card-like customer-present instant payments on mobile devices.

This post contains the usual “enormous potential” blah, an intriguing new nugget suggesting mainstream mobile banking might not be that far away and several tedious puns on distance.

Juniper Research recently released (or maybe updated) a report, a top line from which is..

in developed regions more than one subscriber in ten will be using mobile coupons by 2014. By this time consumers will be generating close to $6 billion in retail redemption value globally.

One in ten by 2014, close to $6 billion globally: does it seem like all that much? Will it still be a handful of jostling players vying for a few early adopters struggling with fragmented platforms?

Vertical markets ARE experiencing meaningful traction with NFC technologies now, for facilities management and asset tracking – effectively facilitating industrial workflows via tagging and bespoke software.

These will be discussed in greater depth by players like Motorola, Avis, G4S and Microsoft at next week’s Mobilise Your Workforce.

on the lines
on the right lines..

Progress in the consumer space, alas, has not been on a par.

Long-time NFC drum-beaters and mobile ticketing specialists, Masabi, recently blogged on the stagnation of the technology (my words) in the consumer space. Their understandable frustration scorches through the post.

After many trials, NFC has been on the cusp of launching in Europe for some time now. It is regularly brought up in conjunction with mobile ticketing…

O2 last did an NFC trial in 2008, and almost exactly a year ago they stated that it had gone so well they were looking to run another trial at some point in the future. We haven’t had that trial yet.

already looks a little dated..

So if the device manufacturers and operators are struggling / unwilling to sort it out, could there be another corporate powerhouse out there with eyes on the prize, willing to take matters into their own hands?


Since March 2009, most Barclays debit cards that have been issued or reissued have had contactless technology built in as standard, so says their corporate release.

Over one million customers already have Barclays contactless debit cards and over two million have contactless Barclaycard credit cards.

The technology allows customers to pay for transactions of £10 or less by holding their card up to a special reader, without the need to enter a PIN or insert the card into a terminal.

This video demonstrates it’s a ready-made done deal and there are plenty of shops, stores and customers who are already using it. Can’t say I’d noticed.

And how does it relate to mobile anyway?

At an AIME seminar exploring the widget universe last week, Mobile Interactive Group (MIG)’s David Glennie alluded to dramatic progress in the space during 2010. MIG’s close ties with both O2 – the most visibly active operator in NFC, and Barclays – having recently produced their waterslide iPhone game, suggest it’s a credible insight.

Whether small scale pilot or not, there’s serious potential in the ability of large banks like Barclays to physically send customers NFC-enabled chips or stickers which can be fixed to devices. With the relevant disclaimers and T&Cs, it could eliminate operators and device makers from the equation.

NFC has been done with consumers like this in the US already. While stickers don’t sound like the most elegant solution in the world, and yes, there will always be security issues (as there are with carrying a wallet) – it has to start somewhere.

For someone to force a mass market play in the consumer NFC space, a reasonable place to start could be a bank launching a strategic campaign which actively educates, perhaps even experientially, and asks their customers to try.

We might be getting closer.