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NFC Scores High at Atlanta Arena

A technology trial of Nokia phones, powered with near-field communication technology, made points with sports fans.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 07, 2006"There was a lot of 'wow' factor," says David Holmes, business development manager for NXP (formerly Philips Semiconductors), regarding feedback received after a recent trial of near-field communication (NFC) technology. Approximately 150 participants took part in the six-month trial, which tested the technology at Atlanta's Phillips Arena (see Sports Fans Use RFID to Pay and Play).

NFC technology uses 13.56 MHz RF signals to transmit data over short distances between mobile devices, or between mobile and fixed devices, for applications ranging from data exchange to electronic payments. NXP, a maker of the chips used in NFC devices, initiated the Atlanta pilot and is involved in or has completed a number of similar trials throughout the world. Other sponsors of the program included Visa, Chase, Cingular and handset maker Nokia.

The participants—season-ticket holders of either the Atlanta Hawks basketball team or the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team—were selected from among those with both a preexisting Chase-issued Visa credit account and a preexisting Cingular Wireless account. In order to gather insights into what the participants liked and disliked about the NFC applications made available to them in the trial, NXP hired independent research firm Catalyst Research & Ideation to conduct participant focus groups. Nokia provided NFC-enabled phones to the participants, which they could use to make purchases (using their Visa accounts) in the stadium, or to download video clips and pictures of their favorite players from NFC-enabled smart posters.

"Responses from the participants were overwhelmingly positive," says Holmes. "We heard things like 'Why did it take so long to get a phone like this?' and 'I can't wait for this technology to become mainstream.'" He believes NFC's ease of use is what attracted the participants, who were given a brief instructional session at the beginning of the trial on how to make payments and download data. "NFC lets them tap into the technology very easily," he explains.

Holmes points out that most consumers' non-NFC cell phones can be used for data exchanges similar to those enabled by NFC, but that few consumers use their phones for this purpose since it sometimes requires navigating lengthy or complicated menus. Using NFC, however, consumers simply hold the phone up to an emblem on a smart poster to initiate a data download.

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