Banks Piloting NFC Payment With CredenSE 2.10 microSD

By Claire Swedberg

To ensure reliable reads, the CredenSE 2.10 microSD card includes an NFC signal-boosting chip from Austrian IC manufacturer ams, along with a DeviceFidelity-designed 3D miniature antenna.

Mobile contactless technology company DeviceFidelity reports that several banks or other financial institutions in Europe, Asia, South America, South Africa, the United States and Canada are currently piloting its CredenSE 2.10 microSD memory card, as well as, in some cases, providing the card—which functions as a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tag—to customers as a permanent deployment of the technology. In addition, DeviceFidelity is in discussions with American Express and Discover regarding the microSD card, and intends to seek certification from those companies in the future.

DeviceFidelity also recently announced that its CredenSE 2.10 microSD card includes an NFC signal-boosting chip from Austrian IC manufacturer ams, along with a DeviceFidelity-designed 3D miniature antenna to ensure reliable reads. Mobile phone or tablet users can simply insert the CredenSE 2.10 into the microSD slot of a handset or tablet PC, download an application and begin operating the device as an NFC-based payment solution, capturing NFC transmissions from contactless point-of-sale (POS) devices and making contactless payments.

DeviceFidelity's CredenSE 2.10 microSD card

The banks' pilot projects involving the CredenSE 2.10 follow rigorous testing by Visa and MasterCard at those companies' own laboratories, as well as those of third-party companies. Visa announced that the CredenSE 2.10 complied with its requirements in September 2013, while MasterCard formally approved the microSD card in November.

The CredenSE 2.10 is designed specifically for mobile payments rather than for other types of NFC transactions, such as downloading data via a smart poster or exchanging information between two NFC-enabled mobile devices.

Most new Android-based smartphone manufacturers are now building NFC readers into their handsets. Those readers, DeviceFidelity notes, are mostly limited to non-secure, non-payment uses, such as capturing advertising data or loyalty points from retailers, rather than for use in mobile payments. That's because a phone service provider or handset manufacturer would need to include the credentials for secure payments with specific banks, and the only available solution at present is the ISIS mobile-payment system—an app resulting from a joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and several banks (see Mobile Carriers Launch Venture to Aid Adoption of NFC in Phones). If a user does not have an account at a participating bank, however, he or she cannot make NFC-based Visa or MasterCard credit-card payments. Furthermore, iPhones and iPads, as well as older-model Android products, lack built-in NFC technology, and for those users, even the ISIS-based solution is out of reach.

Thus, says Amitaabh Malhotra, DeviceFidelity's CEO and cofounder, the CredenSE is designed to solve both problems—the absence of an NFC reader in a phone, as well as the inability to make mobile Visa or MasterCard credit-card payments with specific financial institutions using an existing NFC reader. In the first scenario, a consumer with a smartphone or tablet that lacks a built-in NFC reader can simply insert the CredenSE microSD card and begin capturing data from NFC readers at points of sale. In the other instance, if a user does have an NFC-enabled phone, but wishes to utilize the handset to make payments—for example, using a Visa or MasterCard credit card account with a smaller bank or credit union not part of the ISIS program—he or she can acquire the CredenSE card from that bank or retailer.

Although DeviceFidelity has offered a microSD card in the past for such NFC payment solutions, Malhotra says, there were shortcomings in the read capabilities. Because the cards do not have their own internal power source, and instead draw a small amount of power from the phone itself, reliable reads had required that some type of external booster antenna be installed in the phone. However, he notes, the CredenSE 2.10 microSD card comes with ams' AS3922 NFC chip, which features what the company calls Active Boost Technology, intended to enable a read range of approximately 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) without that external booster antenna (see RFID News Roundup: Ams Announces Analog Front-End Chip for Secure Operation of NFC-enabled Payment Transactions). To increase the CredenSE's readability and ensure that the card could still be read from any orientation when within close range of the POS reader, DeviceFidelity developed a special design for the microSD card's integrated antenna.

DeviceFidelity is not the only company to offer microSD or subscriber identity module (SIM) cards with NFC reader chips, says Mark Dickson, ams' senior marketing manager for wireless product. However, he notes, those other cards all require an external booster antenna or some other type of external attachment in order to assure a proper read reliability.

According to Dickson, the AS3922's Active Boost Technology overcomes the limitations of a small form factor within a challenging environment in which there is a large amount of RF interference in the field. It does so, he explains, because it is designed to boost its response to the interrogator.

The CredenSE is compatible with all mobile phone and tablet operating systems, Malhotra reports, and comes with 8 gigabytes of open memory that consumers can use to store media or other data, and another 144 kilobytes of secure memory that would include payment applets, user credentials and other secure data. The card can interact with any commercial-grade NFC readers, he says.

Certification from Visa and MasterCard serves as "a stamp of approval," indicating that it complies with the financial institutions' security and interface requirements, and is compatible with their standards. With that certification, any MasterCard or Visa issuing bank could now provide the CredenSE card to its customers for use in making contactless payments.

Typically, Malhotra says, a consumer would purchase the CredenSE card from the bank at which he or she had an account. The card would cost little more than any other microSD cards of similar memory, he notes, and would come with credentials related to that bank and account; it could also feature password protection.

The user would then download an app provided by the bank or issuing company, thereby allowing the microSD to link data to that individual's phone, via a cellular connection to the account on the bank's server. If the phone already included a built-in NFC reader, the app would also prompt the phone to temporarily turn off that interrogator when conducting a payment transaction.