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Nokia slips secret chip into C7

Finnish engineers won't say what the NFC chip is for

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Nokia's C7 handset has an NFC chip in it, but Nokia is refusing to say why it's there or even what it is exactly.

The C7 is very much like Nokia's flagship, the N8, only with less multimedia and (arguably) a prettier case, but it now seems that the C7 is packing some Near Field Communications capability, which could make it capable of proximity payments or electronic ticketing. However, Nokia won't say anything beyond admitting that the chip exists - leaving the distinct smell of skunkworks in action.

We're not even clear what an "NFC chip" is. Many years ago Nokia launched a handset which claimed RFID (radio-frequency identification) compatibility, generating much excitement until it emerged that the company was referring to an encryption module on the phone rather than any additional wireless capability. So with that in mind we asked for clarification and waited a couple of days for Nokia to get back to us and explain that it wasn't prepared to say anything on the subject.

NFC isn't as simple as a chip: it needs an antenna, ideally wired into the casing as it is used to induce current when the battery is dead. It also needs to be big. NFC devices also need a secure storage area, which can be on an SD Card or even in the SIM, but the phone needs to support either or both possibilities. Nokia says that the NFC in the C7 needs a software upgrade, but refuses to be drawn on which components that includes, or why it has put them there.

Nokia did tell us that none of its other phones have secret NFC chips installed, and NFC Times suggests that this is because of the social nature of the C7 - the chip could allow Nokia users to tap handsets to exchange details, rather than any electronic commerce application.

But if that were the case, then surely the same chip would have been embedded in the C6 (roughly same phone, only smaller), and it would be insane not to include the m-commerce functionality that NFC enables. Once it is included in the antenna and supporting infrastructure, the incremental cost is insignificant, and we suspect the real reason is rather less coordinated.

We've written at length about how Nokia is a company of great engineers who've been battling against corporate philosophy to get technologies into the hands of users. This is why we can't help thinking that getting an "NFC chip" into the C7 was some sort of skunkworks project that slipped into the real world. At best with the intention of replacing the NFC-enabled 6216 in operator trials, and at worst just to stop Google crowing about having the world's first NFC-enabled smartphone some time next year.

Nokia tells us we should expect an announcement about what it plans to do with the capability, but we can't help wondering if the company would actually prefer us to forget the entire thing and concentrate on the pretty colours instead.

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