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Gemalto gets NFC gig: Singapore punters will all bonk the same way

Rest of world still struggling to agree on standard platform

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Operators, banks and loyalty schemes in Singapore can now use a common API to interact using short-range radio tech Near Field Communications, while in Europe similar schemes continue to flounder.

The scheme was commissioned by the Infocomm Development Authority, a department of the Singapore government, which has asked Gemalto to run the hosting servers. Those servers provide APIs open to any bank, network operator or other party wanting to join the NFC bandwagon, though the company admits that neither PayPal nor Google are likely to sign up any time soon.

For paying-by-bonk – the NFC application that most interests web players and bankers – to achieve any success, standard platforms are needed. This is why the UK mobile network operators launched Project Oscar – but the EU is still deciding if Oscar can be allowed to exist. Google and PayPal have argued that the overwhelming market presence of the UK operators would make it impossible for them to compete, so Oscar remains stalled while the EU ponders the matter.

In the US, Google Wallet has been launched, but the Chocolate Factory has found it almost impossible to convince banks, and loyalty schemes, to port their applications onto its proprietary secure element. That's forced Google to try a cloudy solution, but schemes like the one being deployed in Singapore, and Project Oscar – if it is adopted – should make that easier (for those interested in open platforms).

The Singapore system, in common with Oscar, uses a secure element embedded in the SIM and thus under the control of the network operators, which is what upsets Google and PayPal so. The market for NFC payments is still tiny, but anyone who grabs control now will likely hold onto it for decades so the matter is far from academic.

The public, meanwhile, have shown little interest in paying for things with a bonk of the phone. Orange Quick Tap has been around in the UK for over a year without taking the country by storm, but the infrastructure to accept bonking payments is steadily rolling out and almost all the new plastic cards being issued support pay-by-bonk functionality.

Cards are, of course, less secure than NFC phones as they can't be remotely managed or display their status. Google Wallet is playing to security fears by requiring a PIN to be entered before every transaction, though in the UK transactions under £20 can be completed without a PIN (which, perhaps importantly, means they can be done without power too), but we're still some way from finding out what's acceptable to the end user.

Even in Singapore they accept that mass-transit ticketing will probably be the killer application for NFC, but are still trying to get the Land Transport Authority on board, so perhaps there's still room for Google et al to get involved. ®

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