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Samsung Confirms NFC Chip in Galaxy Note, though NFC Version Already Shipping in Korea

May 16 2012

Samsung Electronics has confirmed it has an NFC version of its Galaxy Note, though that comes as no surprise to operators in South Korea, which have been selling the tablet-smartphone hybrid with NFC inside for about two months.

Samsung this week offered its own dissection of the LTE version of the device on its official blog, which noted the Galaxy Note has an NFC chip with antenna embedded in the back cover. Samsung pointed out that NFC could be used for “close-distance communication, allowing users to use the phone like a credit card or transportation card.”

South Korean operators, led by KT and SK Telecom, are using the Galaxy Note for these applications and others and sold 250,000 of the NFC-enabled Android devices within a month of putting them on sale, as NFC Times reported earlier this month. The Korean telcos are selling the LTE version of the Galaxy Note. It’s part of the more than 5 million NFC-enabled phones and other devices the Korean telcos sold through the end of 2011, including more than 3 million of Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Android-based Galaxy S II. 

The aggressive Korean operators have been the first to get NFC versions of phones from Korean-based handset makers, such as Samsung and Pantech. One or more of the Korean telcos also have been shipping some NFC phones from LG Electronics, another South Korea-based phone manufacturer.

KT, South Korea’s No. 2 mobile operator, began selling an NFC-enabled Galaxy S II last spring, at least six months before the first NFC versions of the popular phone went on sale in Europe. Korean telcos put the NFC-version of the Galaxy Note on sale in the latter part of November or early December. European telcos began selling the Galaxy Note last fall, as well, but not with NFC inside.

U.S. carrier AT&T is expected to put an LTE version of the Galaxy Note on sale next month, probably carrying the NFC chip and antenna. But the telco is not likely to introduce NFC services–especially not payment or ticketing–when the devices hit store shelves. AT&T, a charter member of the Isis consortium with Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA, plans to enable NFC-based payment later in the year in two cities, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Austin, Texas. Verizon is already selling the Android-based Galaxy Nexus, but is not enabling the NFC functionality.

UPDATE: A marketing director for Samsung Telecommunications America told NFC Times that AT&T instructed the handset maker not to load NFC phone software into Samsung’s hybrid smartphone and tablet, the Galaxy Note, which AT&T introduced in February.

“The direction to us was to not enable NFC,” he said.

The Note out of the box only supports the previous version of Android 2.3, known as Gingerbread, which would have required Samsung to add NFC middleware to enable the NFC functionality. On the other hand, two other Samsung devices, the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Nexus, run the latest version of Android, 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich. This version has the NFC software built-in.

That’s why when Verizon wanted to block the Google Wallet from the Galaxy Nexus, it couldn’t just tell Samsung to not install the NFC software on the phone. Instead, it had to ask Google not to make the wallet app available to Verizon subscribers. Google complied. END UPDATE.

Samsung did not mention any embedded secure element in its teardown of the Galaxy Note or the identity of the NFC chip maker. The NFC version of the device probably carries an NFC chip from NXP Semiconductors supporting the single-wire protocol, or SWP. This would enable payment and other secure applications to run on SIM cards that mobile operators issue. The Galaxy S II also carries an NXP made SWP-enabled NFC chip, but not an embedded secure element. 

On the other hand, the Samsung Nexus S 4G and the Galaxy Nexus, both Android phones from Google, carry embedded secure chips, though both probably are able to support SIM-based NFC applications, as well.

South Korean operators told NFC Times they are not introducing special NFC applications for the Galaxy Note beyond those they have launched with the NFC-enabled smartphones they’ve put on sale.

It’s possible Samsung could later offer some of its own NFC applications for the Galaxy Note and other future NFC-enabled smartphones and tablets.

NFC Times has learned that Samsung is considering just such a move, though it’s not clear when or on which devices Samsung would launch its own NFC applications.

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