Dutch banks and operators go contactless
Six of the best plot NFC
A trio of banks has joined three Dutch network operators in creating compatible NFC infrastructure, based on SIM security, aiming to bring contactless payment to the Netherlands by 2012.
T-Mobile, Vodafone and KPN are the operators, while Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING make up the banking side of the table. The companies have signed a letter of intent to create an infrastructure supporting payments from mobile phones using the Near Field Communications (NFC) standard.
The six are undaunted by the fact that there aren't any NFC mobile phones just yet, the only two models ever released having been pulled by Nokia 'cos no one wanted them. Several manufacturers are now making noises about NFC handsets, and the Americans have been surprisingly bullish about the technology lately, so the hardware should come in a year or two.
NFC, or (strictly speaking) N-Mark as the standard is properly known, is useful for all sorts of things as well as electronic payments. NFC devices house a readable tag, and a reader, so interaction works both ways and readable range is restricted by the need to induce current in the tag rather than just bouncing radio signals off it. That makes it well suited to proximity systems such as London's Oyster card, but also as a replacement for bank-issued payment cards.
Assuming that happens there's going to be a battle for control of the secure element necessary to support financial transactions over NFC. Nokia generally placed that element firmly in the phone, putting it under Nokia's control, but US trials are using a removable element that bypasses the handset manufacturer and network operator equally - putting control in the hands of the issuing bank.
The Dutch system places the secure element in the SIM, and will thus require handsets which support the Single Wire Protocol (SWP) as well as the NFC standard. The SWP was published two years ago, but other than a few trials (using customised handsets) it's been unheard of until now.
The SIM is the sensible place for the secure element: users are familiar with the idea that their SIM represents their telephonic identity. Customers switching networks will have an additional step, but nothing that can't be managed.
However, this is an industry that never managed to decide on a standard format for storing plain text files comtaining APN names and MMS servers on SIMs, the combination of which would enable handsets to configure themselves. So specifying an entire banking system, with cross-network compatiability, will be a challenge. The Dutch partners will have their work cut out.
Still, at least they are trying - conservative network operators around the world have let opportunities slip away from them time and time again. From ringtones to smartphone apps, it has been left to third parties to make it happen when operators could have done it better.
The Dutch operators should be commended for trying to keep their customers, though a lot of pieces will need to fall into place if pay-by-phone is really going to take off. ®
Bill, what's with the astroturfing?
How is a technology no end-user wants going to be useful? How is something so obviously and blatantly abusable going to be suitable to replace things that weren't as wirelessly abusable?
Personally I'd insist on a number of things for electronic in-person payments. Some form of contact at least, not the wave your cash in the air like you don't care jig demanded by the operators now. The ability to pay anonymously like with cash -- I really don't want yet more things to track me. Not getting stuck with the liabilities for things I didn't want in the first place. And a couple other things. Yet none of those make it into bankers' thinking and not a peep from you. How is it that the RFID mob manages to completely distort decision makers' thinking, not to mention industry reporting, away from what's good for their customers? What gives?
The audit path isn't an issue
When you start collecting low value payments you generally stay under the radar because people only spot big deductions. This means you'll be operating long enough to pass the threshold time and walk off with the cash.
I appreciate what you mean to say, but audit is a tool that needs enforcement of the results. From what I have seen, the networks Visa and Mastercard really don't care one flaming toss about your safety because you pay for it in higher transaction charges. From their point of view it's not a problem, so endangering you some more is not an issue either.
There is a hint they know rather well what they are about to do: they limit transaction value. When, in the history of credit cards, have you EVER found a time where a setup voluntariliy limits its opportunities to get you further in depbt? Exactly, when there was an unmanageable risk that would affect their income. QED.
It's not as simple as having a bigger aerial getting an NFC to operate over larger distances. The main thing getting in the way of 'drive by' chargings of a NFC type card is the need for a merchant account - anyone collecting payments from a NFC card has an audit path between the money leaving the cardholder's account and the money entering a merchant account.