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Orange Announces NFC-SIM Rollout, Smartphone-Purchase Aims

France Telecom-Orange Group has announced plans to roll out SIM cards supporting NFC services to most of its European operators by the second half of 2011 and has stated its intention that more than half of the new smartphones models it buys will support NFC.

Orange, one of the largest operator groups in Europe, made the announcement at a meeting with mobile handset makers in Paris Wednesday. The telco group said it would “work with manufacturers to ensure that over half of new smartphone models it buys will be compatible with contactless services when combined with the new secure SIM.”

"The smartphone revolution has changed the way people organize their daily lives," Stephane Richard, CEO of France Telecom–Orange, said in a statement. "Our commitment to contactless services will benefit customers, giving them a seamless, convenient and secure way to validate transport or make payments."

Orange has major European operations in France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Poland, as well as five other European countries. The announcement probably does not apply to the United Kingdom, where Orange UK is part of a joint venture with Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile. The JV, Everything Everywhere, is said to be handling its own NFC phone and SIM purchases.

The Orange SIMs to be rolled out would be able to store ticketing, payment and other secure applications in the phones and would be intended for postpaid subscribers.

Orange has already disclosed that it would begin putting the Samsung S5230, Player One, NFC phone on sale in shops throughout its home base of France starting in January. The telco and its competitors are using the phone model, which is not a smartphone, for the precommercial trial they launched last May in Nice. Orange said it will put other NFC handset models on sale in France starting in the spring.

The telco earlier this year set a target of selling 500,000 NFC phones by the end of 2011 in France. Orange has more than 26 million subscribers in France.

Orange’s strategy is to seed the market with NFC phones in France even before NFC services are available, in order to have a base of customers ready to use the services when they are introduced. That may also be the strategy for rolling out NFC-enabled SIMs later next year in most European markets.

But it is unclear when the group will be able to make good on its intention that more than half of the smartphone models it buys will support NFC.

"As soon as vendors deliver," one source at Orange told NFC Times. "So we have started passing the message (that) NFC is now a feature on which we will select phones for our catalogue."

With that message, Orange hopes handset makers will make more models available.

Orange wants the NFC phones to be paired with its NFC-enabled SIMs, through which it plans to make revenue. It would charge service providers to put their applications on the SIMs and fees for helping to manage the services. 

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