Twinlinx

Headquarters: 
France

Twinlinx CEO Jacek Kowalski was too far ahead of his time when he co-founded contactless chip supplier Inside Contactless in late 1995. But his timing appears to be impeccable with his latest venture, Twinlinx.

The new company is building contactless stickers that support NFC technology and can communicate with the handset through a Bluetooth connection.

With pent-up demand for NFC phones unsatisfied by the paltry selection of models expected through the first half of 2010, Twinlinx is getting a lot of interest for its planned MyMax sticker. Among them are transport operators and even a mobile carrier.

MyMax is designed to work with most phones and unlike passive stickers, the planned Twinlinx product could communicate directly with the phone and, therefore, with the mobile network and handset screen and keypad. It could also read data off of RFID tags—just like an NFC phone would. These features distinguish the more sophisticated stickers from passive stickers that only transmit data when powered up by external contactless readers.

This, however, presents a problem because it means the sticker requires its own power source. An initial trial of MyMax in the fall of 2009 with Paris Métro operator RATP ran into some battery problems, according to the operator.

Those battery issues are fixed, says Twinlinx. But perhaps the biggest drawback with the battery is that it adds significantly to the thickness of the sticker. In Twinlinx’s current prototypes, it accounts for nearly half of the 2.6-millimeter girth. The few prototype competing stickers, such as one from SCM Microsystems-funded Tranzfinity in the U.S. are even thicker.

But 2.6 millimeters is still too thick, so Twinlinx intends to slim down the sticker’s size as well as its price—to about 10 euros (US$14.10) apiece in significant volumes compared with up to 20 euros each when MyMax is introduced, expected by early 2010.

Twinlinx is also equipping the sticker to work on a range of handsets, including some well-known makes of smartphones. The sticker requires a small piece of software to run on the phones that host it and so the company has to make sure the software is interoperable across handset platforms.

Despite the challenges, Kowalski has raised nearly 3 million euros (US$4.5 million) since 2006. That is all the more impressive since he largely eschewing venture capital. VCs, eager for more revenue and a faster path to profits, forced him out at Inside in early 2006.

Besides grants from the French government, Twinlinx has picked up significant funding from such customers as RATP, smart card vendor Sagem Orga, and French mobile operator Bouygues Telecom.

Bouygues has pledged even more money if Twinlinx can deliver on the technology’s promise. The telco wants to issue them to subscribers to enable them to read RFID tags in smart posters to download content. At first, Bouygues would use the stickers to supplement NFC phones in a planned precommercial NFC launch in the French city of Nice in the spring of 2010. RATP also plans another trial, either using MyMax to emulate Navigo contactless fare-collection cards, read Navigo cards for reloading or both.

But besides the NFC and Bluetooth chips, MyMax could also pack smart card chips running Java Card and GlobalPlatform software, thus enabling service providers, such as transit operators and banks, to download applications over the air to the chips. Sagem Orga plans to put just such a chip in MyMax stickers it would market to customers next year. The stickers could potentially provide a secure element for mobile payment and ticketing applications in place of the SIM card in NFC phones.

Most observers, however, consider stickers only a “bridge” technology until full NFC arrives in phones. But until then, Twinlinx and any new competitors that spring up will likely find an eager customer base–provided they can deliver the goods.

Key figures: 
Investor Type Major Investors Amount
Pvt. investors Primaveris, Inside Contactless  (€150,000 in bonds), others 1 million
Grants and loans
French, Polish government, others
4 million
Customers RATP, Sagem Orga, Bouygues Telecom 400,000
Total Pledged    5.4 million
In euros

Employees
10 (As of Dec. 2009)

Key NFC Personnel: 
Jacek Kowalski, CEO
Eric Alzai, CTO
Steve Lewis, head of marketing and transport
Frank Edme, head of retail and banking
Major NFC and Contactless competitors: 

Wireless Dynamics, Bladox, Chunghwa Telecom/Foxlink

Last Updated: 
Dec 2009
Author: 
Balaban

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