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Vodafone pay-by-bonk launch may signal iPhone 6 NFC plans

That's it, big boy, come bonk on our tube

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Vodafone has announced that its SmartPass technology will work with TfL’s systems when the London Underground starts accepting mobile pay-by-bonk on 16 September – but bigger things are planned.

The existing SmartPass platform uses a system where a phone apes a contactless credit card. It’s tied to the customers’ card and doesn’t involve Vodafone in payments. What Vodafone will announce later in the year is a more fully featured NFC proposition, and this may be yet another a indication that the hotly anticipated iPhone 6 will feature NFC.

Rumours of “the next iPhone having NFC” have been around since the very first iPhone failed to have bonking technology. Now, seven years on, the gossip has over-reached itself.

The NFC community, which has been touting pay-by-bonk for a decade, has constantly said that the adoption of the technology by Apple is the shot in the arm the tech needs. Through most of that time lots of expensive forecasting companies have said that the NFC revolution is just a couple of years away and put together spreadsheets with numbers that have had lots of zeros on them.

The reality has been a big fat zero. Even in the town hailed as a great NFC success – Nice, in France – Orange shops seem to have given up pushing the CitiZi technology.

Barclays has recently announced that the Quicktap service, which it launched with Orange, will be switched off at the end of next month.

What has become apparent from the leaks is that Apple is doing deals with Amex, Visa and Mastercard. This, combined with an FT rumour that Dutch chipmaker NXP has inked a deal with Apple to supply NFC chips, puts some substance behind what in the past has been wishful thinking.

Of course, the NFC community did itself no favours with a sectarian battle over where the secure element should go, with the operators (who after all pay for most of the phones) wanting Single Wire Protocol and the banks (who didn’t want to pay a rake-off to the operators) favouring Host Card Emulation.

It would be a very Apple move to tie everything to its own closed ecosystem, and if that is the case, consumer confidence becomes supreme. To shake their confidence in such a system would need something bad – say, a rumoured hack of iCloud – to happen. ®

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