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UK proximity payments by phone this summer

Everything Everywhere goes NFC

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Everything Everywhere is launching proximity payments in the UK this summer in collaboration with Barclaycard.

The service, which will come with a flagship handset supporting Near Field Communications, and a new pre-paid account, will be compatible with Barclaycard's existing payment infrastructure. So by this summer more than 42,000 tills in locations including Pret a Manger, Little Chef and the Co-op will be able to take your money with a wave of your phone.

The service will be another prepaid account - one will be able to top it up using a credit card, but the value stored on the phone will be a separate account. That becomes important when considering the additional benefits of buying by credit card, such as insurance and fraud protection, but it also means the merchant transaction fees are much lower (and lower than cash too) which is the point of the whole exercise.

Security shouldn't be a big issue - the range of NFC is limited by the use of inducted power, so the best radio in the world can't read an NFC tag from any significant distance. The usual concerns about modified readers or strangers getting too close on crowded trains apply, though the use of cryptographic authentication between the bank and the SIM (not the handset) should reduce that risk to an acceptable level.

To use the service you will need a suitable SIM - Everything Everywhere is putting the whole thing in the SIM, which makes sense for a network operator. That means the handset will need to support the Single Wire Protocol (SWP) to allow the SIM to communicate with the radio hardware, but these days that includes the majority of NFC handsets, including the Nokia C7 and Google's Nexus S.

EE won't be drawn on which will be the flagship handset, only saying that it's started working with the manufacturer and that the service will be up and running on at least one handset before the summer.

The focus on the SIM means users can take their account between handsets by moving the SIM, as long as the new handset supports NFC and the SWP, but it also puts the operator in complete control of what other applications can be installed. Those applications could range from train ticketing to airline boarding passes, all under the watchful eye (and cryptographic approval) of Everything Everywhere.

This is exactly what operators should be doing - managing the security and identity of their customers before Apple and/or Google takes on that responsibility. Apple certainly intends to do just that, with an NFC-equipped iPhone, so it's good to see that at least one operator is getting in there first. ®

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