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Gulf scheme reveals BlackBerry SWP tap-cash support

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MasterCard has announced it will be deploying PayPass in BlackBerrys in the United Arab Emirates, showing RIM's support for the Single Wire Protocol in the process.

It isn't clear which RIM handsets will be able to use the system, which will allow Etisalat customers within UAE to pay for goods with a tap of the phone. But given Oberthur Technologies' statement that the secure element will go in the SIM, it is clear that RIM has acceded to the demands of network operators and decided to support the SWP in its handsets.

RIM has been very cagey about the Near Field Communication capabilities of its latest handsets, pushing the exchange of business cards and hosting corporate IDs over proximity payment systems. We've asked the question directly, several times, but received no useful reply from RIM, but the company has been under pressure from network operators to support secure elements in SIMs, and this announcement seems to confirm that the pressure has worked.

Proximity payments require two components: the radio connection between the handset/card and the reader, and a secure element hosting the application which authenticates the transaction. The NFC standard says a lot about the radio, but purposefully says nothing about where the secure element should go, or who has control over it.

Network operators would like the secure element to go into the SIM, but that requires handsets supporting the Single Wire Protocol (SWP). Operators have been badgering RIM to support the SWP after it seemed clear that the Canadian company would instead decide to place a secure element of its own in the handsets.

The solution, as pioneered by Google, is to support two secure elements: an embedded element under the control of the manufacturer, and an SWP connection to appease the network operator. In RIM's case the embedded element can provide door-locking and P2P connections, as well as being available in case RIM ever decides to host proximity payment services.

But in the UAE the BlackBerry service will be hosted by Etisalat, using SIMs from Oberthur and running MasterCard's PayPass application to connect to Network International's payment processing service.

Sadly NFC Times puts the number of PayPass terminals in UAE at 700. Despite all that effort, it is hard to believe the service will be widely adopted. MasterCard prefers to quote the global figure of 341,000, and certainly deployments in Europe and the USA are forging ahead, so the fact that BlackBerry handsets support the SWP, and thus other SIM-hosted payment systems, is perhaps the more important story here. ®

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