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NFC Forum Adopts Key Specification for Certification Testing Program

The NFC Forum has adopted a key missing piece of its specifications program, which will enable more thorough testing to avoid interoperability problems.

The new analog specification will form the basis for what the NFC Forum has called a second wave of testing of NFC devices as part of the group’s certification program.

The specification covers the analog signals of the NFC-enabled devices. The specification is designed to give device makers “greater flexibility to use NFC chips from different suppliers without putting device interoperability at greater risk.”

The forum actually adopted the new specification in July, but announced it today. It follows adoption in November of 2010 of the digital protocol specification, which basically includes the command sets, formats and coding used by NFC devices to exchange data. This specification formed the basis for the first wave of certification tests. The forum unveiled its certification program in late 2010.

To date, however, there have been few NFC devices and no smartphones certified, and it’s not clear how many are in the pipeline.

But Jonathan Main, a member of the forum’s technical committee and the committee’s former chairman, told NFC Times that as manufacturers bring more NFC devices to market, certification testing will become more difficult to avoid.

“Whereas, when you have few devices available, you can do interoperability testing between those devices,” he said, referring to device makers doing their own interoperability testing. “As those numbers increase, it becomes infeasible to be working in that way. There are so many combinations of those devices.”

The forum's certification program doesn't actually require interoperability testing, just testing for compliance with the forum's specifications. The forum holds separate “plugfests” to test device interoperability, though these events are voluntary.

NFC smartphones now are tested by the major payment card schemes or their standards group, EMVCo, but only if they are going to be used for payment. This testing includes the analog signals. The card schemes certify the devices to run their applications, such as Visa payWave or MasterCard PayPass.

The forum and EMVCo recently announced a collaboration agreement, which could reduce duplication of certification tests, with EMVCo potentially accepting the test results conducted under the NFC Forum certification program and vice versa.

Main said the analog specification forms the basis for this agreement, but he noted that EMVCo only tests devices in card emulation and reader-writer communication modes, not peer-to-peer, which NFC Forum’s certification program includes.

“At this point, EMVCo and NFC are working toward that alignment, but it isn’t complete,” he said.

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