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RIM Pushes TSM Services to Telcos in Competition with SIM Suppliers

Research In Motion continues to promote its own trusted service management service–the only handset maker to offer one–announcing Wednesday approval by Visa of the service to manage secure elements on NFC phones.

RIM is targeting its “secure element manager” service at mobile operators, offering to manage their NFC SIM cards.

The service is separate from RIM’s NFC-enabled BlackBerry phones and would be a separate revenue source. RIM says it could manage NFC SIMs and even embedded secure elements on Android and Windows Phone devices, though it would be unlikely to get contracts to manage the embedded chips owned by other device makers.

RIM confirmed to NFC Times that it is working with Netherlands-based smart card management system vendor Bell ID to provide its TSM service. Bell ID has a TSM platform to manage keys and applications.

But Geoffrey MacGillivray, RIM’s senior product manager for NFC services and TSM Product management, contends the handset maker has the security expertise in its own right to compete for TSM business against the top four smart card suppliers worldwide, Gemalto, Oberthur Technologies, Giesecke & Devrient and Morpho, which offer TSM services, along with NFC SIMs and other security products and services.

“RIM has a long history of security; and we are very adept at securely managing devices over the air,” MacGillivray told NFC Times. “If you look at these other service providers, they certainly have experience with SIMs and UICCs and relationships with carriers, but RIM also has relationships with carriers.”

RIM, known for its secure messaging service, has been struggling financially as its BlackBerry smartphones continue to lose ground to Android devices and the iPhone. The Canada-based company has much riding on the introduction of its BlackBerry 10 operating system, scheduled for launch Jan. 30.

Phones running the new BlackBerry OS will support NFC, just as a range of handsets in the Bold and Curve series already do. These phones run the current BlackBerry 7 operating system.

But it remains to be seen if RIM will be able to turn TSM services into a money maker. The TSM business will require lots of users to be profitable, following the initial licensing or implementation fees a TSM typically gets when a project starts up. Commercial launches of NFC secure services are only expected to begin in earnest this year and are expected to remain relatively small for some time to come.

In October, RIM announced that it is serving as TSM for the EnStream joint venture in Canada, made up of Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility and Telus Communications. But EnStream has not said when its partners would launch NFC services. Rogers along with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce have announced the launch of commercial service–initially on two BlackBerry models–but they probably do not use RIM as a TSM.

RIM noted in its announcement Wednesday that its TSM has met Visa’s “stringent technology and usability guidelines.” It’s unclear how often payment networks certify TSMs on the secure element side—which calls for TSMs to securely manage keys and carve out secure domains on the secure element.

The payment schemes more often appear to certify TSMs that serve banks, on the service provider side, including approving the security of the TSM’s data centers that handle card personalization data. The schemes also certify secure element providers.

All four of the major SIM vendors have certified TSMs.

MacGillivray said RIM’s TSM could also manage embedded secure elements, in addition to NFC SIMs, and that presumably includes RIM’s own embedded chips, which it has put into every one of its NFC-enabled BlackBerry phones. It does not talk much about its plans for these embedded chips, except to say that it intends to enable enterprise applications with them, including contactless employee ID badges.

Each NFC-enabled BlackBerry also supports a single-wire protocol connection to the SIM slot, and RIM–which needs telcos to buy its phones–has assured operators it would not promote NFC applications on its embedded chips in competition with the telco’s own SIM-based NFC services.

“We are balancing the needs of our carrier partners as well as our own in launching these services,” said MacGillivray.

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