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Nokia pulls the plug on wireless payment handset

While China Unicom builds new ones

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Nokia has scrapped its third NFC handset, the 6216, which never got launched despite being scheduled for last year and despite China Unicom's plans for an NFC launch.

The 6216 would have been Nokia's third NFC handset, but the first to have handed control of the payment system to the operator's SIM through the Single Wire Protocol (SWP): exactly the architecture that China Unicom will be deploying in the next six months, as NFC World reports.

"We felt the quality of the consumer experience was not what it needed to be," Nokia told NFC World when asked about the cancellation of the 6216, before confirming that the company was still committed to the idea, just not the architecture that gives operators control.

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a system that allows a phone handset to be used as a proximity-payment system, waved near a reader for small-value transactions such as public transport for example. Those compliant with the NFC Forum's specification can operate through induced power (so work on a battery-dead phone) and are compatible with existing ticketing systems such as London's Oyster card.

But wireless communications are only half the story - such a system also needs a safe place to store the current balance and the various certificates necessary to secure the system. The obvious place for that is inside the SIM, and operators lobbied hard for the SWP standard which would connect a SIM-based NFC system to the outside world, but despite being a standard for more than two years SWP-compatible handsets still don't exist in significant numbers.

Companies like Nokia would much rather see the secure module embedded in the phone, tying the user to the handset rather than the SIM, and operators haven't provided any discouragement.

So the 6216 would have been a significant handset, if it had been launched, which Nokia has now admitted won't happen.

Which is a shame as China Unicom has announced it will be launching an NFC-Forum-compatible service, based on SWP, later this year. That's going to have to compete with China Mobile's, incompatible, RF SIM system, but as China's second network operator Unicom still has more than 125 million subscribers - enough, one might think, to make Nokia think again about the 6216. ®

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