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Wireless payments come to London's tube

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O2, Nokia and Transport for London are to trial Near Field Communications (NFC) handsets to host Oyster cards - so you'll be able pay for your tube journey using your mobile.

The trial will be announced tomorrow morning but will likely centre around the Nokia 6131-NFC handset, as that's the only model with the technology currently built in.

Oyster is based on Phillips' MiFare technology, otherwise known as ISO14443 Type A, which these days is a subset of NFC. So the Nokia handsets should already be compatible with the Oyster readers on the ticket gates.

Far more complicated than the wireless part is the logistics of managing tickets within the phone interface, and the security of the system. The Nokia 6131-NFC has a secure memory module within the handset, where the ticket information is stored, but many in the industry would like to see the SIM utilised for that kind of data: putting the ownership into the hands of the network operator rather than the phone manufacturer.

Japan, where the Felica system has been providing much the same functionality for some years, has the advantage of having one company, DoCoMo, in charge of the whole value chain, which simplifies things considerably.

O2 is involved in the announcement tomorrow - in fact it is hosting it, so it's possible it has had some input here. More likely, though, it is going to run the back-end to enable users to top up their Oyster credit over the air.

The scale of the trial and deployment schedule won't be revealed until the morning, but it could be a significant boost for NFC if the companies involved can generate enough publicity for customers to start asking for the capability in their phones. ®

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