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Kovio gets help convincing world to buy into printed NFC

Symphony Teleca follows Android into supporting Kovio tech

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Symphony Teleca will be helping NFC-specialist Kovio realise its dream of dropping printed NFC tags into just about everything, bringing its analytical and technical skills to bear on Kovio's product line.

Symphony Teleca, a product development strategist and analyst, describes itself as a "partner for captivating connected experiences" and counts a client list which includes all the important companies in IT and telecommunications, while Kovio has $5m in new debt from Square 1 Bank which has been burning a hole in its pocket since 2 January. Though financial details of the new collaboration haven't been disclosed, Symphony should help Kovio spend some of it pushing Kovio's product line.

That line includes printed tags which Kovio likes to call "NFC Barcodes" and can be churned out using ink-jet-like printing at a third of the cost of traditional tags, but still aren't part of the official "N Mark" standard endorsed by the NFC Forum.

Android provided support for NFC Barcodes in its most recent release, Jelly Bean, as NFC World points out, and Inside Secure's NFC chips should support it too, but it's far from clear if any production handsets can use the technology.

NFC, as endorsed by the NFC Forum, includes passive tags which respond with a short chunk of text which can contain a URL, but those cost between 10 and 15 pence a time. Kovio's tags, on the other hand, will only respond with a number - but they cost a third the price. Also, given the majority of URL tags point to a programmable short code, the difference in utility is little more than academic even if the compatibility problem remains.

Despite that lack of compatibility, Kovio can still call the chips "NFC Barcodes" because, unlikely as it sounds, the NFC Forum never trademarked the term "NFC" so anyone us free to use the term indiscriminately which could yet cause problems when the term is being widely used to denote conformance with the (hastily monikered) N-Mark standard.

NFC is having a tough enough time without trying to expand the standard yet again, which means Kovio is experiencing a few problems. At the annual operator junket, Mobile World Congress, NFC was everywhere but sadly almost all the tags we found were just storing URLs - so could easily have been replicated with QR Codes or indeed Kovio's NFC Barcodes. NFC itself is capable of so much more.

The industry probably has a few years left to make NFC stick as a consumer technology, or find itself competing with (cheaper) RFID tags in vertical markets. Should that happen then embracing Kovio might be wise, but until then Kovio and Symphony Teleca will be fighting an uphill battle. ®

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