France: 'Demonstration' Tests French Cooperative Approach to NFC
French mobile operators officially launched their first NFC demonstration project in the French Mediterranean city of Nice in May 2010. Each of the country’s three operators planed to put at least 1,000 NFC phones on sale initially. SIM cards the telcos issue will store transit-ticketing and bank-payment applications. At least four French banks are expected to participate in the launch, both with contactless cards and applications for NFC phones, although as of the spring of 2010, only Crédit Mutuel-CIC and BNP Paribas had confirmed its participation. Crédit Mutuel said it would launch its PayPass payment application in June, but retail payment will likely not be introduced officially until the fall of 2010. But there will be a host of other services, including transit ticketing with Nice-area operator Veolia Transport. That will likely include enabling riders to download and pay for low-value ticket purchases on monthly phone bills. Other planned services will use NFC’s reader-mode function, such as allowing users to get information on bus and tram schedules or on city monuments by tapping their phones on NFC tags embedded in smart posters. Developers at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis are building some of the applications, which will also likely be used on campus. And other service providers may also join the project, such as French automaker Renault, which wants to test use of NFC for enabling users to unlock vehicle doors or change their navigation settings.
A lot is riding on this Nice trial, which organizers call a “precommercial launch” of NFC service. Organizers intend for the project to lead to rolling launches in other cities, leading up to a nationwide rollout. And, French pride is also on the line with France’s “coopetition” model for NFC. French mobile operators and other NFC players in the country believe they have to move together toward rollouts of NFC services, even if not all players launch at the same time. They are setting down rules and standards for how to offer NFC services. The Nice project has the blessing of the French government. The city’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, is also minister of industry in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government. The Nice trial will test a variety of applications and will offer NFC phones for sale for the first time to French consumers. If successful in Nice, NFC services would next likely expand to Payez Mobile towns of Caen and Strasbourg. But as the start of the project nears, it has become clear retail payment will not be among the first services offered at launch, with banks and telcos and retailers apparently not working together closely enough. Bank payment is expected to start in the fall of 2010.
* Trusted Service Manager: Defined loosely to include companies or other organizations securely distributing, provisioning and managing applications, generally over the air, on secure elements in NFC mobile phones; or licensing their platforms for this purpose.
N/A: Not available or not applicable. Last update: April 2011
French operators together have sold something over 3,000 of the Samsung S5230, Player One, since the launch of the project about a year ago. About 20% of subscribers buying the phone, which has been a popular non-NFC model in France, activated one or more of the NFC features in the first year.
Project organizers say they are not disappointed with that rate, given that until November 2010, the only major application available was transit ticketing. Veolia Transport, which runs the bus and tram network in Nice, said the transit operator was happy with the 20% take-up by riders carrying NFC phones. Only 40% of the population regularly uses mass transit in Nice, so the pool of potential NFC phone users is smaller than in many European cities. And only one NFC model has been available in shops in the city, the Samsung S5230.
The first bank, Crédit Mutuel-CIC, added an NFC payment service only around November. Two more banks, including BNP Paribas, launched their services early in 2011, enabling customers to tap their phones to pay at about 1,300 merchant locations that accept MasterCard PayPass or Visa payWave applications in Nice. Payment transaction volumes with the phones are still low, however.
More Nice-style launches are planned in France, including Strasbourg and probably Caen, in the latter half of 2011.