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Google Becomes Member of NFC Forum Board

Google has upgraded its membership in the NFC Forum standards and trade group to the top rung, sponsor member, giving the search giant a seat on the 13-member board.

Google joined the forum in March of 2011 as a principal member, and the recent upgrade indicates Google is still committed to NFC as a component for its Google Wallet as well as NFC support for its Android operating system.

The search giant has also been issuing specifications for embedded secure elements for chip vendors to use to support the Google Wallet, NFC Times has learned, though the specs are apparently not mandatory, except perhaps for Google's Nexus devices. This indicates Google continues to have plans for NFC-enabled embedded secure chips in Google Wallet phones.

There has been some speculation that Google might pursue a purely cloud-based approach in the future for its wallet and the payment applications inside it as a way to avoid having to gain access to secure elements, which is one of the many challenges Google has faced with its wallet. The search giant, however, has made no public statements indicating it is backing away from NFC.

Google joins 12 other members on the forum board, which is mainly made up of chip makers, but includes Visa Inc. and MasterCard Worldwide, along with forum co-founder Nokia. Board seats cost $50,000 apiece in annual dues.

"As both a mobile operating system and NFC payment solution provider, Google brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to our board," NFC Forum Chairman Koichi Tagawa said in a statement today.

At present, Google puts a prepaid application on the embedded chip in Google Wallet NFC phones to conduct payment transactions at the physical point of sale. Those purchases are funded by cloud-based credit and debit cards.

In October, a Google representative confirmed to NFC Times that the company would continue to anchor its wallet with the embedded secure chip with the next version of its wallet, 2.0. That version, however, was due out in November and so is more than three months late.

Google was also planning to issue a physical magnetic-stripe payment card, accepted on the Discover Network as a companion for Google Wallet 2.0, though Google never confirmed this.

At last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Peter Hazlehurst, Google’s director of product management for the wallet, participating in a panel discussion on mobile wallets, noted that Google Wallet is available on 20 NFC devices in the U.S.

He didn’t mention in his presentation when Google would release Google Wallet 2.0. Afterward, he told NFC Times that Google continues to work on the next version of the wallet, with lots of “pilots and testing, with the goal of enabling any Google user to use the wallet. But he declined to say when version 2.0 would be released.

Other Membership Changes
The forum today also announced that China-based Huawei Technologies, which has shipped some NFC-enabled smartphones, had upgraded its membership from associate to principal, the second highest level.

And Japan-based chip supplier ROHM, and Brother Industries, also headquartered in Japan and a maker of printers and other office equipment, joined as associate members, along with eight additional implementer members. It brings the total membership of the forum to more than 180.

While not announced, the forum’s Web site indicates that France-based chip maker Inside Secure recently left the forum board, downgrading its membership from sponsor to principal member.

Besides, Google, Visa, MasterCard and Nokia, the other board members are mainly chip makers: Broadcom, Intel, NEC, NXP Semiconductors, Qualcomm, Renesas, Samsung Electronics, Sony and STMicroelectronics.

Japanese telco NTT DoCoMo, UK-based issuer and acquirer Barclaycard and Microsoft dropped their seats on the board within the past year to 18 months.

DoCoMo had been the only telco on the board. There remain few members of the forum at any level from among mobile operators and no European telco is a member of the organization.

Mobile operators are mainly pursuing NFC standardization through their trade group, the GSMA, along with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s SIM committee.

The GSMA also plans to introduce a certification or common validation program for NFC handsets for mobile operators, which could compete with the forum’s certification program covering devices.

Forum director Debbie Arnold told NFC Times that a liaison agreement between the forum and GSMA could help the organizations avoid duplication of testing.

She added that the forum would soon announce that a major mobile operator was joining the group as a principal member.

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