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Cityzi Seeks to Spur Adoption of NFC RFID Technology

In the French city of Nice, residents have begun using NFC-enabled cards or mobile phones to function as tickets on the city's buses and trains, as well as earn loyalty points for shopping at participating merchants.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 04, 2010Two weeks after the launch of a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID initiative known as Cityzi, hundreds of Nice residents are using Samsung phones to function as bus and light-rail tickets. They can also employ NFC-enabled cards or phones to gain loyalty points when shopping at participating stores. This portion of the larger Cityzi NFC pilot (which also includes smart posters that provide tourist information about the city, as well as future contactless payment plans) is working well, says Jérémie Leroyer, the CEO of contactless marketing firm Airtag, indicating that while it is still too early to evaluate the success of the contactless transit-ticket and loyalty-card programs, user feedback has been favorable thus far.

Airtag is providing the platform and software to link the unique ID number of each mobile phone's NFC RFID module with transit-ticketing accounts on the server of rail and bus company Veolia Transport, as well as loyalty programs for area merchants. To date, approximately 10 stores operated by three merchants are participating: La Croissanterie, a fast-food chain; Game, a video store; and Rica Lewis, a jeans retailer. About 4,000 NFC-enabled phones are expected to be sold to participants. In addition, participating stores will provide NFC-enabled loyalty cards that can be used alternatively by those who want to participate in loyalty programs without having to purchase the mobile phone. Like the phone, the loyalty cards will utilize Airtag software to track the cardholder's purchasing history, and to provide appropriate discounts.

To earn points in La Croissanterie's loyalty program, consumers can wave their NFC-enabled phone or card across a terminal installed at the point of sale.

For those using the contactless mobile phones, individuals can first go to one of about five Orange France Telecom stores in Nice, where they can then purchase an NFC-enabled Samsung S5230 touch-screen phone. The phone itself costs less than €10 ($12) when purchased in conjunction with a service contract. Alternatively, consumers can visit one of the other participating mobile service providers: SFR, NRJ Mobile and Bouygues Telecom.

A Samsung NFC-enabled phone showing the FidBook application
The phone comes with an NFC chip that functions as an RFID reader and tag, as well as a SIM card that stores data related to NFC transactions. In the transit application, users first go to the tram station or bus stop and tap the phone against a contactless reader installed at that location. The Airtag system provides a choice of options, such as viewing account data linked to the unique ID number encoded to the phone's NFC chip, buying additional tickets or purchasing a monthly pass. If buying tickets, the individual is then presented with a list of options, such as purchasing 10 tickets or more. When he or she makes a selection, the system approves the transaction, and the purchase price is then charged to the user's mobile service provider account. The customer is later billed by that service provider for the amount due. In that way, no credit card or cash is necessary.

Upon boarding a bus or train, the user taps the phone against a contactless reader, and if he or she has a monthly pass, the ride is simply approved, while if that individual has prepaid for a specified number of rides, that ride is then deducted from the balance of tickets available on the phone's memory. The next time the phone is used at a fixed NFC contactless reader, the updated information is also transmitted to the wireless service provider's server.

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