Nokia takes NFC phones to New York subway

If it ain't American, it ain't happening

Despite eschewing NFC payments in the rest of the world, Nokia will be testing a handset capable of paying for subway tickets in New York, and before the end of 2011.

The news came as a footnote to Wednesday's releases, and simply stated that the Finnish company so publicly embracing Microsoft is also working with the New York Metropolitan Transport Authority to push out a handset capable of hosting subway tickets in trials by the end of 2011.

Which handset we don't know, though the recently launched (and Symbian-based) 603 would seem most likely. None of those announced at Nokia World even has a NFC chip in it, despite NFC being a feature of Nokia's last smartphone, the N9. Microsoft has stated that APIs for NFC will be embedded into Windows Phone some time next year, so one might hope that the Lumia 800 (and perhaps 710) has NFC hardware inside, but the company isn't saying that.

What Nokia did say was that Wednesday was "all about Windows Phone", which explains the company's reluctance to talk about application of features from its Symbian portfolio.

There is also the C7, branded Astound in the USA, but that lacks an embedded secure element, and even appears to lack support for the Single Wire Protocol which would allow the use of a secure element held on the SIM. That has hitherto left Nokia to highlight NFC's ability to unlock new levels of Angry Birds rather than anything more revolutionary.

The New York subway already uses proximity tickets, but has expressed a desire to move towards directly charging journeys to credit cards to avoid paying an intermediary. London's Oyster would like to do that too, but demands a 300ms transaction time, which credit card clearance can't yet achieve. New York's subway is simpler in that all journeys cost the same amount, so credit card payments are more practical.

MasterCard has already approved the Samsung Tocco, and Google Nexus, for hosting instances of its PayWave card embedded in the operator's SIM or manufacturer's secure element respectively. It has also now approved the BlackBerry for a SIM-based instance, so getting approval for a Nokia handset shouldn't be difficult.

That immediately opens up the possibility of using the Nokia 603 with Orange QuickTap, which is also SIM-based but currently limited to the Samsung Tocco NFC phone.

But Nokia isn't talking about that, which makes even more sense when one realises that the only proximity payment system deployed on a phone in the USA is Google Wallet, something Microsoft would never countenance being embedded in a device from its flagship partner. ®

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