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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
Mobile phone vendors that have provided SWP NFC phones to GSMA members include Sony Ericsson, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung. The vendors contacted for this story have declined to comment on whether they could meet the GSMA's call by mid-2009, though a Sony Ericsson spokesperson (who has asked to remain unnamed) says, "Sony Ericsson has a wealth of experience in NFC technology through our initiatives in the Japanese market, and we are investigating how to best bring the technology to other markets."

The GSMA's Pay-Buy-Mobile pilots were designed to test NFC hardware and data-collection technology, and to determine consumer interest. The results of those pilots indicate a vast majority of consumers would like to use the technology. Thus far, however, it is not yet installed in phones on a large-enough scale for any permanent deployments. The GSMA wants to change that by specifying the type of NFC technology to be installed in the phones, and by setting a deadline to encourage sales of NFC handsets.

The CDMA Development Group—a consortium of equipment vendors and operators of cell phone service that use CDMA technology, instead of GSM—has not offered any recommendations regarding NFC technology, and has not participated in the Pay-Buy-Mobile pilots. However, CDMA service providers have undertaken multiple NFC pilots, a spokesperson for the consortium notes. CDMA is the protocol in use by many North American mobile service providers, including Verizon and Sprint Nextel, while GSM is more prominent in Europe and Asia. CDMA phones containing NFC chips do not utilize SWP, Collins says, though CDMA vendors could install SWP technology if they so choose.

GSMA's announcement is "sending a very clear message," says Jean-Philippe Betoin, Inside Contactless' VP of strategy and device marketing. That message, he states, is "We want single-wire protocol. People are happy with this technology, and we want vendors to execute it." Inside Contactless, which is not a member of either GSMA or the CDMA Development Group, provides NFC chips to mobile phone manufacturers.

"We are, so far, the only NFC chip vendor with a qualified and working SWP interface to the SIM," Betoin says. "So that is a significant announcement for us, and we hope it will boost demand for our Microread NFC chip from handset vendors."

The call from the GSMA is good news for the NFC industry as a whole, says Peter Preuss, marketing chairman of the NFC Forum. GSMA is a member of the NFC Forum, an organization whose members and board of directors also include MasterCard Worldwide, Microsoft, Nokia, NTT Docomo, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, Sony and Visa, and whose mission is to promote NFC technology in all of its forms, including its use with mobile phones.

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