The European Telecommunications Standards Institute sets standards for the mobile technology used in nearly 4 billion mobile phones worldwide, and each one requires a SIM card.

ETSI’s Smart Card Platform group handles the SIM specifications. That includes adopting any hardware and sometimes the software changes in SIMs that would enable the cards to carry NFC applications or to play other roles within NFC phones.

The ETSI SCP first adopted a standard for the physical connection between the NFC chip and the SIM using one wire, or the single-wire protocol, in late 2007. The following year it approved a protocol standard, called the host-controller interface, that specifies how chips within NFC phones communicate with one another. One of these chips could store payment, ticketing and other applications. The ETSI SCP has since adopted final versions of these standards and is almost finished approving test specs for them.

While the SCP group includes handset makers and chip and card vendors, the members from the mobile network operators have the most clout. That is especially true when consensus breaks down over proposed standards. While that doesn’t happen often, when it does, weighted voting rules allow operators to call the shots.

That is what happened when operators, including France-Telecom Orange and UK-based Vodafone, prevailed in a vote taken in February 2008 over two options for implementation of the host-controller interface, or HCI. The first option, which won the day, potentially gives the SIM card a much stronger role in controlling communication among the NFC chip and secure chips in the phone compared with the other option, which was favored by handset maker Nokia.

The Nokia option also had backing from NFC co-creators NXP Semiconductors of the Netherlands and Japan-based Sony Corp., along with MasterCard Worldwide and U.S.-based Microsoft Corp. This group, which wanted to see a smaller role for the SIM, included at least one operator, NTT DoCoMo of Japan.

But Nokia has countered by helping to push through its preferred option in the NFC Forum, which also sets standards for NFC technology. That option is called the NFC controller interface, or NCI.

Although, the two standards can coexist, the ETSI SIM committee in August 2009 sent a letter to the NFC Forum warning that the NCI could lead to market fragmentation and interoperability problems in NFC phones. The two organizations have a memo of understanding to work together on NFC standardization.

Key NFC Personnel: 
Klaus Vedder, Giesecke & Devrient, chairman
Tim Evans, Vodafone, vice chairman
Denis Praca, Gemalto, vice chairman
Last Updated: 
Nov 2009


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