Mobile Phone Companies to Demonstrate UWB Payments

By Claire Swedberg

NTT Docomo, Sony and NXP plan to show how ultra-wideband technology can enable consumers to make payments via smartphone, based on their location, without having to tap the phone or remove it from a pocket or purse.

While mobile phone payment solutions rely on the tap of a Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled handset, many technology companies are preparing for the release of new Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in which ultra-wideband (UWB) technology enables payments without the requirement of tapping a smartphone.

Japanese mobile phone operators NTT Docomo and Sony Corp. will demonstrate a new UWB system for phone customers using a network that enables Touchless Mobile Wallet payments, leveraging NXP integrated circuits. With the UWB system in place, payments can be accomplished based on a phone's precise location and interaction with another UWD device (such as a point-of-sale device), even if the phone never leaves a shopper's pocket.

The demonstration will be provided with the help of Sony Corp.'s Sony Imaging Products and Solutions subsidiary, whose phones could come with the built-in UWB chip. The demo will take place at Docomo Open House 2020, to be held in Tokyo on Jan. 23-24.

NTT Docomo and NXP intend to offer UWB solutions in Japan, not only for payment applications but also for precise location-based advertising, access control and other IoT use cases. The NXP chipset in use is the SR100T, which was released in September 2019 and includes a Secure Element (SE), as well as NFC and UWB functionality. NXP has been working with NTT Docomo and Sony for several years on NFC and now UWB solutions, according to Charles Dachs, NXP's VP and general manager of secure embedded transactions.

UWB transmissions from and to mobile phones enable companies to provide IoT services that demand location granularity beyond what Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), GPS, Wi-Fi or other technologies can accomplish. UWB-enabled mobile phones can be located within very specific areas, for instance, thereby enabling payment transactions based on an individual's location. The ST100T can provide the location data required to identify when a specific person intends to enter a car or building door, as well as confirm that he or is approved and then unlock the door.

UWB transmits a signal across a wide band from 6 to 9 GHz and relies on angle-of-arrival (AoA) technology. That enables users to locate a device within a few centimeters between two UWB devices, or to track the location of a specific UWB device, such as a phone, with fixed anchors receiving the device's transmission.

In a payment application, the technology could enable a transaction at the point of sale, Dachs explains, without requiring a user to remove a wallet or mobile phone from a pocket or purse. Instead, UWB solutions for payment applications can identify a customer standing in front of a payment device, and thereby accomplish the transaction hands-free. With the demonstration, Dachs says, Docomo intends to showcase the versatility of UWB's 360-degree positioning, its location accuracy of a few centimeters, and its spatial-context awareness that can be purpose-built for personalized advertising and marketing.

Last year, Apple indicated it was building UWB chips into its latest iOS devices, making UWB functionality more ubiquitous among mobile phone users. Other handset providers, such as Samsung, are members of the FiRa Consortium, the UWB alliance's working groups dedicated to the development of seamless user experiences using UWB technologies. The consortium also includes Sony and NXP among its members.

NFC is already being deployed around the world for wireless payments with a mobile phone, but it still requires users to tap an NFC-enabled phone. With UWB, Dachs says, "You remove the need for the tap and you can have a hands-free experience."

In some cases, however, applications will leverage a combination of technologies to provide the appropriate amount of security and functionality, depending on how the system is being used. The demonstration is intended to show UWB's capabilities not only when operated independently, but also in a hybrid solution with BLE and NFC. In the future, Dachs says, some payment systems already using NFC technology could add UWB functionality, providing consumers with multiple payment options.

NXP has demonstrated the chipset internally, Dachs says. "We have many prototypes and use cases being tested worldwide for payments, access" and other IoT solutions, he adds. In the automotive space, for instance, the UWB system is being prototyped for vehicle access. An individual using an app and the UWB functionality in his or her phone could prompt the unlocking of a vehicle automatically, only when in close proximity to the car. Furthermore, since the technology can identify who is entering the vehicle, an application could automatically set body and comfort settings according to an individual's preference, such as the position of the seat and mirrors, as well as the interior temperature.

NXP demonstrated the chipset and the use of UWB at several events last year and has made announcements related to automotive solution pilots. Beyond payment and vehicle access, the technology could be used for gaming, as a player could use his or her mobile phone to provide location data for a video game. The system could be used in industrial applications as well, in order to provide the locations of assets, equipment or individuals, and to better enable automated processes or robotics.

For advertising, with real-time localization, a business could identify when a shopper enters a specific area and then push advertising data to that person's phone that would be relevant to that specific area, including the particular shelf in front of which she or he may be standing. While BLE is being used for location-based advertising, it does not offer UWB's location granularity.

Initially, UWB-based payment pilots or deployments are expected to take place in Japan. "What's happening next is that we are expanding FiRa with more use cases that will be standardized," Dachs states. "It's about making sure that we can grow the user experiences in key verticals."