Following Samsung, Sony, Other Device Makers Likely to Promote Embedded Secure Element

While Samsung Electronics has made known a major part of its embedded secure-element strategy for its NFC phones–with its work with Visa, MasterCard Worldwide and likely other payment schemes–Samsung isn’t the only device maker planning to enable applications on its NFC phones.

Sony Mobile also has an emerging embedded chip strategy for its Xperia NFC line, NFC Times has learned.

The Android phone maker is believed to be gearing up to offer its embedded chips as early as this fall, sources said. It would likely use embedded chips from either NXP Semiconductors or STMicroelectronics.

Like Samsung, Sony would only promote the chip in markets where mobile operators don't subsidize a high percentage of the smartphones, and Sony might yet back off on its embedded chip strategy or delay it, said a source.

Other device makers are also exploring opportunities to enable payment and other secure applications on their NFC-enabled embedded chips. They could earn fees from service providers for playing host to the applets.

Among original equipment makers that have already participated in a project is HTC, which enabled payment on its embedded chips with China UnionPay and China Merchants Bank in 2012. And like Samsung and probably Sony, the device maker is working in Russia.

Russian trusted service manager i-Free plans to enable a prepaid application from Tinkoff Credit Systems bank. And Sberbank, Russia's largest bank, has told NFC Times it is working with one or more Chinese OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), in addition to Samsung, and other device makers–probably HTC and Sony–to put its payment application on embedded chips. It has also talked to BlackBerry.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry has included an embedded secure element in every one of its NFC-enabled phones, starting in August 2011 with its first NFC phones running in the BlackBerry 7 operating system. The smartphone maker is continuing to include an Infineon-produced embedded chip in its BlackBerry 10 devices, starting with its Z10 and Q10 phones.

BlackBerry, formerly known as Research in Motion, hasn’t yet used the embedded chips for commercial services. It was initially hoping to enable payment applications on the chips, but had been discouraged from that idea by mobile operators, said sources. It might still try to promote payment, in certain markets, where telcos don’t control handset distribution.

BlackBerry has publicly said only that it plans to enable enterprise ID applications, such as corporate badges and perhaps meal vouchers and other benefits.

The smartphone maker has its own trusted service manager, using a Bell ID platform, which it could use to manage the embedded chips for service providers–though it remains to be seen when BlackBerry will go beyond the pilot stage with its embedded applications.

Such other Android phone makers as LG Electronics is believed to have much less interest, at present, in promoting embedded secure elements in its NFC phones. That could always change. And some Chinese Android phone makers are believed to be working with service providers.

For example, Sberbank, Russia's largest bank, has told NFC Times it is working with one or more Chinese OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), in addition to Samsung, and other device makers–probably HTC and Sony–to put its payment application on embedded chips.

That includes work in the lab, at present, with the OEMs, but the bank hopes to launch an NFC payment service from embedded chips in the next year, perhaps as early as the end of 2013; and is in discussions with Visa and Samsung to demonstrate a Visa payWave application for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. That's according to Mircea Mihaescu, Sberbank’s director of IT strategy and technology innovation and a principal of the bank’s venture capital arm.

The demo phone will likely be Samsung's Galaxy S4, which comes with payWave preloaded on the embedded chip. Mihaescu said Sberbank has also talked to BlackBerry.

In addition to Android and BlackBerry NFC phones, it's possible Microsoft could support embedded chips in future versions of its Windows Phone operating system. To appease operators, Microsoft withheld support for embedded chips in its present Windows Phone 8 version.

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