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NFC Pays for Parking With HonkTAP

Technology company Honk Mobile has teamed up with Smartrac and Apple to create a system for users to tap a phone against an NFC sticker to make a payment within seconds, without requiring the downloading of an app.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 02, 2019

Private and college parking organizations, as well as municipalities, have been deploying a new payment solution this spring and summer that allows users to pay for their parking space with the tap of their smartphone, without the need for an app or the inputting of many details about their payment information. The NFC functionality, as part of Canadian technology company Honk Mobile's HonkTap solution, was developed with the support of Apple, and using Smartrac's 13.56 MHz NFC tags. The solution is now being deployed in some private parking lots throughout the United States and is already in use across Canada, says Tony La, Honk Mobile's CTO.

Honk Mobile was launched about five years as a parking app that provided a way for individuals to avoid the queues at payment terminals in parking areas, and to simply make pay for their parking online. Users typically would employ geolocation to find the parking lot app for their area, search for an address, find the location within a map or enter a unique zone ID displayed on signage in the lot.

These days, Honk Mobile's app is in use across Canada and in parts of the United States, at colleges and universities, as well as in private and municipal parking lots. Municipalities are also starting to deploy the app for phone-based payments. However, the traditional system could be cumbersome and time-consuming for individuals trying to pay for their parking and continue on their way.

Recently, La recalls, Apple approached Honk Mobile with a suggestion for how to enable Apple Pay NFC payments so that users could pay for their parking more easily. With NFC, an individual could simply tap his or her phone against an NFC-enabled decal affixed to a meter, wall or pillar, and then complete the transaction via Apple Pay. That could be accomplished, he explains, without requiring an app to be downloaded.

In January of this year, La says, Apple and Honk Mobile connected with Smartrac so the companies could discuss the use of NFC tags. Smartrac specifically developed its Block On-Metal NFC tags to meet Honk's needs for improved read range, which provides the benefit of a larger and easier-to-locate read-point for consumers tapping the tag with their smartphones, according to Art Barton, Smartrac's regional business-development manager. The tag is designed to be versatile so that it can operate in any parking environment. It comes with NXP Semiconductors' SLIX2 IC for greater read range, with optimized tuning for on-metal surfaces, Barton says, adding that it is also effective on other surfaces.

Smartrac has been working on a variety of NFC-based solutions that could also be used with Apple Pay. "We've started bringing our technology to a variety of vertical applications and end-user developers," Barton states, "with Honk Mobile being one of the first ones on an applications side." When Honk Mobile released HonkTap, it was designed to work with both iOS- and Android-based devices, and to operate with both NFC and QR codes, he notes. Each decal has an NFC tag built into it, along with printed instructions on the front to advise drivers how to pay for their parking. As the decal is installed, operators can use their mobile phone to link the decal with its specific location.

The methods can vary slightly depending on the needs of a parking operator, La says. If an individual does not want to download an app, he or she doesn't have to. If the NFC functionality is operating on that person's Android or iOS phone, he or she can simply proceed to a decal in the parking lot and tap the phone. The phone will then open the Honk Mobile site, where the user will be asked to input a license plate number and select a payment method: Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Pay or a credit card. The process is designed to be easy to use, La reports, and with the transaction completed within seconds.

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