Vendor Group to Show First Products in Bid to Rival Mifare
Vendors seeking to break the dominance of Mifare technology in the contactless transit-ticketing market plan to show samples of the first products complying with their new Cipurse specification in November.
The group, known as the Open Standard for Public Transport Alliance, or OSPT, officially released the specification Thursday, more than 18 months after its founding vendors, Infineon Technologies, Inside Secure, Oberthur Technologies and Giesecke & Devrient, announced the group.
While facing an uphill battle in taking on an entrenched Mifare ecosystem led by NXP Semiconductors, chip and card vendors in the alliance say they are seeing some interest from the transit industry for their planned products. They declined to disclose names of possible users of the technology outside of current alliance members.
Mifare is used for transit ticketing in more than 600 cities and represents roughly 70% of the global market. That large infrastructure of contactless terminals onboard buses, at metro gates and in other transit venues also could be used by Mifare-based applications on NFC phones.
So at stake is not just hundreds of millions of contactless transit fare-collection cards issued every year, but secure chips and software in NFC phones. The same technology is also used for physical-access control and event ticketing.
OSPT members plan to show the Cipurse samples at the Cartes & IDentification 2011 conference and exhibition in Paris in mid-November.
OSPT claims its technology, originally developed by Infineon, will evolve into an open standard that any member will be able to access and contribute to.
Laurent Cremer, executive director of the OSPT Alliance, told NFC Times that a third-party body will be in charge of independently testing and certifying product interoperability and compliance with the Cipurse specification. “We have made a tender to which five companies applied,” Cremer said. “We have now selected one supplier to handle the certification process.” He said the group would name that supplier in the coming weeks.
But since announcing the OSPT Alliance in January 2010, only two organizations have joined the four founding members in the group and no fare-collection systems integrator has yet endorsed the initiative.
While refusing to reveal any names, Cremer said that some major players from the transit industry would be officially joining the alliance in a matter of weeks.
“What I can say is that it is generating a lot of interest, and for many reasons,” said Cremer. “One of the reasons is that today you have a gorilla in the market, which is the de-facto standard (Mifare). We understand that the transport community is really happy to find an alternative.”
Still, it’s unclear the amount of demand vendor members of the consortium will see for products to compete with Mifare, and when volume production would begin. There is no indication yet of any groundswell of support for a Mifare alternative, despite well-publicized hacks three years ago of Mifare Classic, which is used in most of the Mifare implementations.
OSPT has made it clear it will try to exploit fears over these hacks, as well as what members contend is a restrictive licensing policy by NXP.
But the group will be taking on a wildly successful Mifare technology that is starting to be specified in the secure elements of NFC phones, both on embedded chips and SIM cards that can carry transit ticketing and other applications.
Among those industry vendors unable to obtain licenses from NXP to produce Mifare products are OSPT co-founder Inside Secure, an NXP rival in the NFC chip market. Also, Infineon, which annually ranks as the largest supplier of smart chips worldwide, is not believed to be able to get a license to produce advanced Mifare products. It can produce Mifare Classic-compatible chips under a grandfathered licensing agreement. OSPT co-founder Oberthur has a license to produce SIM cards supporting more-secure Mifare applications.
NXP has also licensed two other chip vendors, STMicroelectronics and Renesas Electronics, to supply Mifare, as well as card vendor Gemalto to supply more secure Mifare-based SIMs. None of these vendors are members of the OSPT.
Cremer said that while several companies have shown a lot of interest in the new transit technology, a major limiting factor up until now has been the fact that the Cipurse specification was not ready. Following a soft launch of the spec earlier this summer, some 30 companies have applied for it.
And the OSPT director is confident that this figure will go up significantly now that the specification is available for downloads on the alliance’s Website.
With version 1.0 of the specification now being evaluated by existing and prospective OSPT members–together with the upcoming launch of a certification body–volume production could potentially happen in 2012. What is certain is that no vendor will embark on a serious product development strategy until it gets a clear signal that there will indeed be demand for the new technology from transit agencies and operators.
Asked about how far off the first commercial rollouts of Cipurse might be, Cremer replied that it’s too early to say.
Ironically, one early adopter could be in the Netherlands, the home base of NXP. The Dutch-based Open Ticketing Institute, or OTI, which is involved in the rollout of a national transit-card system, is one of the two organizations to have recently joined OSPT. The other is China-based card vendor Watchdata Technologies. It’s not certain yet whether Dutch transit operators will adopt OSPT, although they were worried about the Mifare Classic hacks.
“In the OTI, we have a key partner to work with,” said Cremer, adding: “The fact that (operators that had deployed Mifare Classic) had no option but to stay in a proprietary scheme, we understand that was slowing down this migration process. We believe that the alternative of Cipurse availability will speed up this migration process.”
Dan Balaban contributed to this story.