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A Conversation With NXP's Tony Sabetti and Steve Owen

Two of the RFID chipmaker's top executives talk about the RFID market, chip security and NFC phone applications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
RFID Journal: It seems like NFC technology and pilot tests are more advanced in the European market, compared to North America. Is that true?

Sabetti: That situation is slightly ironic. True, there are more [NFC-enabled] handsets in Europe. But in the U.S., more RFID-enabled payment cards have been issued to consumers—and as a result, there are more payment terminals that accept these cards. And those payment terminals are NFC-ready.

But to Steve's point, there are some challenges in front of us to get this widely deployed. [Deployments] will probably start city by city, to region by region here as well. Plus, in North America, there is a business complication based on how telecoms get phones to customers. There is an incentive for the carriers to subsidize those phones. Because of this, they dictate the features and functionality, and that is a very different set-up than what is happening in Europe and other parts of the world. And because of that, the phones in the U.S. are different than those in other places. Because of this, it is more difficult to get NFC functionality in U.S. handsets—we have to speak with the phone manufacturers, the carriers and all parts of the NFC ecosystem. The business case for NFC needs to be understood by all of the players, and that creates an iterative process where, through the NFC Forum, we are trying to optimize the business relationships and discussions to ensure NFC gets integrated into US handsets. On the plus side, we see a lot of activity among handset makers with plans to put NFC technology in their phones. I think it would be feasible to see North American really jump out in front of the rest of the world.

RFID Journal: In terms of where the handset makers are adding NFC functionality, are you seeing more activity in the most high-end, high-function phones, with Web connectivity, such as the BlackBerry or iPhone, or is it across their entire phone portfolios?

Sabetti: It is relatively even, though most manufacturers are putting more of their R&D dollars into smart phones, so there is a bias. But overall, it is fairly even.

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