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STMicroelectronics Releases NFC Controller With Built-in Secure Element

The company's system-on-a-chip also includes an eSIM so that a single die can offer NFC and HF RFID functionality, as well as security and built-in memory.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 19, 2018

STMicroelectronics has released a new Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled system-on-a-chip (SoC) product intended to make NFC transmissions faster and connectivity more secure. The SoC, known as the ST54J, comes with three products built into a single die: an NFC controller compliant with the ISO 14443 and ISO 15693 protocols, a secure element and an embedded subscriber identity module (eSIM) card for network connectivity. The resulting solution enables all three to be built into a device such as a smartphone, without requiring as much space as would be necessary for the three individual products, according to Christian Vignes, the director of STMicroelectronics' Mobile Security Business Line.

The new product will allow devices to offer NFC payments or other functionality, without requiring what would otherwise be an off-chip data exchange between an NFC chip and a secure element. The chip operates in three different modes: card emulation, reader-writer and peer-to-peer communication. In card emulation mode, it can be used for mobile payments, transportation or other secure transactions. Reader- writer functionality allows the chip to either send or receive data when tapped against an NFC tag or device. And peer-to-peer communication enables transactions between two devices, such as two mobile phones exchanging photos or business cards.

The secure element, built on the die's ARM SecurCore 300 core, provides security features to protect the device against advanced forms of attack. It also comes with a large internal shared memory and proper communication interfaces, eliminating the need for an external SIM for memory storage. The chip package measures about 3.5 millimeters by 3.5 millimeters (0.14 inch by 0.14 inch) and approximately 0.41 millimeter (0.02 inch) in thickness. Its compact footprint ensures that it will not interfere with the space needed by the device for battery, the company reports.

The eSIM eliminates the need for a dedicated SIM slot in a phone or other device, thus making the product more water-resistant since it has no physical opening for a SIM card. Additionally, Vignes says, the eSIM being built in reduces the need for physically handling a SIM card or entering a code. "A consumer just downloads the subscription they want" for the phone or device to talk to the network carrier, and can do so even by using a QR code.

Because of the very small size, the phone or other device need not sacrifice battery size to accommodate it, says Thierry Crespo, STMicroelectronics' manager of NFC and secure mobile marketing. "The footprint is reduced," he explains, while the RF booster's ability to improve RF transmission performance allows for a smaller antenna size. The use of the eSIM lets users easily subscribe to and update their subscriptions without any SIM card replacement. For data roaming in other countries, new operator profiles can be loaded onto the eSIM.

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