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Germans to get pay-by-phone public transport

Bus tickets today, cash payments tomorrow?

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Residents of the German town of Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main, will soon be able to pay for bus rides using their mobile phones following the successful conclusion of a trial conducted by Nokia, Philips, Vodafone and the local transport authority, the Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV).

The system is similar to the Oyster electronic ticket offered to Londoners. Nokia will be offering through Vodafone shops a version of its 3220 handset equipped with near-field communications (NFC) circuitry. When you get on the bus, you brush the phone against the sensor and your journey is recorded. At the end of every month, RMV sends you a bill covering all the trips you've made.

NFC is an established technique for contactless data transmission - it's been touted as an alternative to Bluetooth for wireless headphones, for example. Changing levels of current in the wires of an electric coil wrapped around a magnet generate fluctuations in the magnetic field of a second, nearby coil, generating a signal.

The roll-out of the service as a commercial endeavour follows a ten-month trial in which the tweaked 3220s were provided to 160 Hanau residents, more than 144 of whom gave the system the thumbs-up. Now, all 95,000 Hanau-ites will be able to use the system.

The special handsets will also operate as loyalty cards, allowing users to claim discounts at local shops, bars and eateries.

How soon before users will be able to pay for goods using the handsets. Transport for London, the quango overseeing London's public transport is already pondering how to take Oyster to the next level and offer it not only as a way of paying for bus and tube tickets in advance but as a quick - transactions take mere milliseconds - alternative to cash, albeit replacing loose change rather than big-denomination notes and credit cards. ®

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