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Slippery Rock Adds RFID to Student Cell Phones

The Pennsylvania university is giving out passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags to attach to mobile phones, allowing attendees to pay for a range of goods and services, both on campus and off.
By Claire Swedberg
NFC readers require a tag to be very close to an interrogator—within a few centimeters—to capture its ID number. As such, NFC can be a preferable solution with regard to payment methods, because it offers greater security. The university set up a focus group, polling select students as to their spending behavior. It found the students were more likely to have a cell phone in their pocket than to carry even one dollar in cash.

The resulting solution will be available to students and faculty at the start of the fall semester, in conjunction with the ID cards. Supplied by RFID systems provider On Track Innovations (OTI), the tag is affixed to a cell phone, preferably on the inside cover of the battery compartment. When presented to an RFID interrogator at a merchant's sales terminal, it transmits an ID number linked to the tag holder's Rock Dollar account. Heartland is providing RFID-enabled point-of-sale terminals for deployment on the college campus. In addition, Welsch says, the company is signing up merchants in town, and also in neighboring communities.

At the first meeting with merchants, expected to take place next week, Welsch hopes to sign up 50 to 100 merchants initially. Whether on campus or off, he explains, the merchants must purchase the point-of-sale device, manufactured by VeriFone and cabled to an RFID interrogator and PIN keypad made by Heartland. The device will be able to read regular payment media, such as mag-stripe credit cards and student ID cards, as well as RFID tags in cell phones. Welsch estimates the cost of the device will be similar to that of a POS device without the reader: about $500. Merchants must use the specific VeriFone credit-card terminals, with an RFID reader and PIN pad attached. The devices can also accept Visa and MasterCard contactless cards.

Welsch reports that unattended food and beverage vending machines, clothes washers and driers, and photocopiers on campus will each have a Heartland RFID reader installed, which will communicate directly with Heartland's host system via an Internet connection. Dining halls, the bookstore and other on-campus merchants will use VeriFone POS terminals, in combination with the Heartland interrogators and PIN keypads.

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