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Major Smartphone Chip Supplier MediaTek Introduces NFC Chip

Taiwan-based MediaTek, a major supplier of processor chips for smartphones, has announced its first NFC chip, which it says could support three secure elements at one time.

The announcement this week by MediaTek of its new NFC standalone chip, the MT6605, is expected to bring NFC to more low- to mid-range smartphones, especially in China, where MediaTek is believed to have the largest market share for smartphone processors.

MediaTek has increased its market share globally, thanks to its growing business in China. It ranked as the No. 2 supplier of baseband processors and No. 3 for application processors worldwide during the first half of 2012, according to U.S.-based research firm Strategy Analytics. MediaTek often combines these processors into one chip.

The announcement by MediaTek follows the unveiling last month by U.S.-based Qualcomm, the largest supplier of processor chips worldwide to smartphones, of its plans for a standalone NFC chip. Other major smartphone chip suppliers, U.S.-based Broadcom and Marvell, earlier announced plans for NFC chips.

“Basically, every major wireless chip maker has a solution ready to go (or planned),” Mark Hung, wireless research director for U.S.-based research and consulting firm Gartner, told NFC Times. “That’s how ubiquitous it’s going to become. It’s (NFC) becoming virtually a default, at least on the mid- to high-range devices.

That does not count the iPhone, of course, which does not yet support NFC, he adds.

MediaTek predicted it would begin shipping its NFC chip commercially in the second quarter, which would beat rival Qualcomm to the market, which said it would begin shipping its QCA1990 NFC chip in the third quarter.

Qualcomm said its NFC chip would be able to support a dual-SIM approach, in which both SIMs could run NFC applications and support the single-wire protocol, or SWP, standard.

Multiple Secure Elements
But MediaTek said its chip could support dual SIMs plus one microSD card or other combinations of three secure elements. All would be capable of supporting NFC applications and would be connected to the NFC chip via a SWP link, said MediaTek. The third secure element could be an embedded chip.

Qualcomm also said its NFC chip would support an embedded secure element, though did not say three secure elements could be active at one time.

But having three secure elements or even two active in the same NFC phone at one time is theoretical, at least for now, since commercial considerations usually determine whether there are multiple secure elements activated. And in the rollouts of NFC services to date, only one secure element, either the SIM or embedded chip, is active. This usually depends on which party owns the phones–and in most markets, mobile operators are calling the shots. Most telcos strongly favor SWP-SIM cards to store NFC applications.

A spokesman for MediaTek told NFC Times that the chip maker designed its NFC chip to support three secure elements with the Chinese market in mind. Most phones are not sold through operator channels in China.

“We’ve been talking to lots of customers in China, and we figured out they have a need to enable multiple NFC services,” he said. “We thought, 'why don’t we have three?' We want to make the platform flexible that will allow the players in the ecosystem to introduce their own unique services.”

Chinese telcos China Mobile and China Unicom are rolling out SIM-based NFC or planning to do so this year. But Chinese banks and payment networks have also tried launching mobile payment on microSDs and embedded chips in NFC phones.

‘Beam Plus’
The MediaTek spokesman said the chip supplier has developed its NFC software stack for Android and other mobile platforms to enable the three active secure elements.

The stack and NFC chip also support an enhanced peer-to-peer feature, which MediaTek calls “Beam Plus,” which it says would “optimize” the pairing of devices using Wi-Fi–for example to stream a video from a smartphone to a television by tapping the phone to the TV. NFC would quickly open the Wi-Fi connection. That connection time would take only four seconds to open, down from 14 to 15 seconds without NFC, said the company.

The P2P feature in the MediaTek chip would enable the NFC-to-Wi-Fi connection to work even with Samsung Android phones supporting Samsung’s proprietary S-Beam feature, said the MediaTek spokesman. Beam Plus would also work with Android Beam, Google’s NFC P2P feature, he said.

MediaTek developed the MT6605 NFC chip in-house, the chip supplier told NFC Times. This chip is different from an NFC standalone chip that MStar Semiconductor, which MediaTek is acquiring, released last year.

MediaTek declined to say which embedded secure element provider it had selected for its NFC chip, but NFC Times learned that MediaTek has been working with NXP Semiconductors, Infineon Technologies and STMicroelectronics. It could use embedded chips from any one of these, depending on the device maker’s preferences.

Among recent non-NFC Android phones for which MediaTek is supplying chips are the ZTE V889M, Huawei G500, Lenovo S890 and Sharp SH837W.

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