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GSM Association Calls for NFC-Enabled Cell Phones

The mobile service provider association has called for Near Field Communications functionality to be built into commercially available mobile handsets in mid-2009, but the plan is unlikely to become a reality unless service providers begin placing orders.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 24, 2008The GSM Association (GSMA), an organization composed of licensed GSM mobile network operators and the technology vendors that serve them, has announced that it has asked manufacturers of cellular phones to include, by the middle of 2009, a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip with a single-wire protocol and a SIM chip in all of the handsets they produce.

The GSMA announcement, issued by the global trade group at its Nov. 18 meeting in Macau, China, is intended to spur the global use of NFC phones. This step follows on the heels of four years of GSMA-led NFC pilots, many launched under the name of Pay-Buy-Mobile, carried out at various sites worldwide (see Cell Phone Service Providers Start Global NFC Initiative).

However, says Jonathan Collins, principal RFID and contactless analyst at ABI Research, that call is not a mandate and may not be realistic without specific orders for such handsets by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

"I think the call from the GSMA is interesting, and an indication of mobile network operator support for the potential of NFC," Collins says, but adds that it will not impact vendors as would actual orders from MNOs. "Most handset vendors have looked at NFC, and have designs to enable their new handsets to support the technology, but production awaits solid orders from MNOs. So far, those orders have not been placed."

NFC—a short-range high-frequency (13.56 MHz) RFID technology—enables the exchange of data between two devices over a distance of a few centimeters. It can be employed to make contactless payments with mobile phones using an NFC chip that transmits an ID number to RFID interrogators at point-of-sale locations in retail, or at train stations. NFC technology in mobile phone handsets can also be used to open locked doors, or to download a URL or other information from a separate NFC device, such as an NFC tag embedded in a smart movie poster.

Most NFC phones currently available are GSM models that utilize the SWP standard, which specifies the interface between the Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC), or SIM card, and the NFC chip embedded within the handset. The SIM card, which can be removed from the phone, contains data managed by the phone service provider, such as the user's payment information. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has endorsed the SWP standard.

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