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O2 Customers See Value in RFID-enabled Phones

The majority of participants in a six-month trial, recently undertaken by the British cellular service provider, say they appreciated the unique applications made possible by the handset's NFC technology.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Additionally, trial participants were able to use the Nokia phones to download special VIP passes from NFC-enabled smart posters mounted outside the Blueroom, a members-only bar inside The O2 sports and entertainment arena in London. According to Maslen, participants reacted favorably to this offer. "They used and liked it," she says. "They liked the feeling that they were part of something special, and that they could take up to four friends with them into the club."

Participants were also issued RFID tags embedded in stickers that they could utilize as a type of digital sticky note. They could encode the URL of a real-time train schedule, for instance, and adhere the sticker to their desk at work. When preparing to leave for home, they could then read the sticker's tag with their phone and call up the current train schedule on their phone's Web browser. Smart posters, which have RFID tags embedded in them that can be used similarly, were offered as well.

"The smart posters were really well received, and in hindsight, we wish we'd done more," Maslen states. "It's so intuitive for someone to 'tap' their phone against a tag. No need for fancy cameras or complicated settings! We've subsequently used some of the smart-poster ideas internally, and at events, to test people's views, and it's always a positive reaction. We're working with tag providers to ensure we have a variety of tags available in different formats, and that work in different environments (behind glass, on metal, etc.)."

O2's next step will be to gather together a task force consisting of vendors involved in the trial, as well as additional handset manufacturers, banks and other vested parties, and to work on architecting subsequent stages. "We hope to meet starting in October or November, and we are open to different vendors stepping in," Maslen says. "In the U.K., we have 14 different train operators that come into London, and we want to work with them as well. We also have a few major card schemes [payment card organizations]." There are many opportunities to grow a large NFC payment infrastructure in the United Kingdom, she explains.

But buy-in from other handset manufacturers will be key to the technology's success, since O2 is thus far working with only one phone maker—Nokia—on NFC. "We have close relationships with all of the tier-one handset manufacturers," Maslen says, "and we hope they will join our task force so we can move forward."

Some issues O2 will address as it decides its next steps will be those raised by participants. In addition to wanting a selection of different NFC handsets to choose from, those involved in the trial expressed interest in an improved user interface that would allow them to manage their Oyster and payWave accounts through their phones. In terms of payments security, participants indicated that while they would appreciate using a personal identification number to authenticate payments on a periodic basis, they did not want to have to key in a PIN for every transaction.

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