France Deals with Interoperability Doubts, as It Gears for National Rollout

French mobile operators, banks and vendors say they are finally ready for a nationwide launch of NFC payments this year, a move that follows years of preparations. 

And among the issues the players have had to deal with along the way have been interoperability doubts that persisted at least into the spring of this year.

Telcos France Telecom-Orange, SFR, along with Bouygues Telecom, and banks BNP Paribas and Crédit Mutuel-CIC plan to move their NFC projects from a few local deployments to the national stage this year. 

The operators have been seeding the market with NFC phones and, to a lesser extent, NFC SIM cards. About 40 NFC models have been available in mobile shops that can work with the French “Cityzi” NFC SIM cards and more than 3.5 million of the phones have been sold to date. 

Orange and, more recently, SFR, say they have also been issuing NFC SIM cards to new subscribers and by the end of the year, Bouygues and a mobile virtual network operator are expected to begin issuing the standard SWP-SIMs.

BNP Paribas and Crédit Mutuel-CIC are expected to begin signing up customers for their mobile-payment services at branches in various parts of the country this fall, though nationwide promotion might not start later in the year or early next year. Two other large French banks, Société Générale and La Banque Postale, are expected to follow with their own NFC payment launches.

And since last year, all new point-of-sale terminals have come with contactless readers, though many are not yet activated. But by the end of 2013, French banks estimate there will be around 200,000 active terminals that accept Visa payWave and MasterCard PayPass. Some estimates place the forecast at 300,000.

NFC-enabled transit and other local services might launch in a few more cities, with help from government funding, but most transit ticketing commercial projects won’t start until next year, including a hoped-for launch of mobile NFC ticketing in the Paris region. The focus for this year for the national rollout is on payment.

Interoperability Issues
But despite France’s pioneering role in setting global interoperability standards for NFC and the launch of its groundbreaking multioperator, multivendor trial in May of 2010 in the southern French city of Nice, doubts have persisted even into this spring about whether French TSM platforms and SIM cards from different vendors could work together.

NFC Times has learned that the major French telcos and banks, through their respective associations, AFSCM and AEPM, sought assurances from the two major French vendors supplying technology for the national launch, Gemalto and Oberthur Technologies. The vendors were persuaded by the telco and banking group members in April to jointly sign a letter committing that their technologies would be interoperable.

The operators and banks wanted to know that the NFC SIM cards from one vendor would work with the competitor’s TSM platform, and vice versa, said sources. There were also questions about whether a service provider TSM hired by a bank would communicate well with the TSM managing the SIM cards for a mobile operator–if those two TSM platforms come from different vendors. 

Representatives of French mobile operators, banks and vendors told NFC Times that they are now confident that the TSMs and SIMs will be interoperable for the national rollout. They add that among the reasons for the concerns were that banks had asked for more control over how their applications are managed on operator SIM cards. This greater control for banks and their TSMs was not available as a feature on SIMs used in the earlier NFC trials. Supporting the feature required more development work.

Still, it is telling that after years of work drafting and agreeing to detailed specifications and rules, the French ecosystem still has had difficulty proving it can be interoperable. And the interoperability doubts call into question the scalability of the so-called “split-TSM” model, in which each bank and telco or secure element owner hires its own TSM.

Up until recently, French telcos have been buying both their SIM cards and TSM services from the same vendors–Orange France from Gemalto, and SFR and Bouygues from Gemalto’s chief rival, Oberthur.

Orange and possibly SFR have more recently expanded their list of NFC SIM vendors, but doubts were such that French telcos and banks felt it necessary not only to have written assurances of interoperability from the two vendors but also to hold meetings with them to specifically discuss the topic, including one held in early April, sources told NFC Times.

Some observers believe competitive issuers were at the root of the interoperability concerns–with neither vendor keen to work closely with their rival, in an effort to sell more of their own SIMs and TSM services. 

Winston Yeo, vice president for mobile financial services at France-based Gemalto, attributed any problems to different implementations of the specifications by the vendors. He downplayed the importance of meetings held to discuss issues related to the rollout and interoperability.

“For me, it’s not too much of a surprise because sometimes there are areas (that) different companies interpret (in the specification) differently, hence that’s why you have a platform like this, meetings to clarify,” he told NFC Times. “But, for sure, Gemalto is committed to making sure that the TSM, it’s working with multiple secure element vendors.”

Arnaud de La Chapelle, managing director of the solutions business unit at Oberthur, noted that NFC technology is complex, and it will work “only if it’s based on standards, if it’s demonstrated as being interoperable, and we make things simpler.

“So, in order to make things simpler, we need to show cases where we interoperate,” he said, noting that Oberthur, serving as TSM for Société Générale bank, involved in NFC service in the eastern French city Strasbourg, demonstrated such interoperability. “We were connected with (TSMs for) two French mobile operators, one from Oberthur Technologies and one from another supplier, and we managed to successfully deploy NFC services on Oberthur Technologies SIM cards and (SIMs) from another supplier, being the first TSM supplier demonstrating the end-to-end interoperability of its NFC offer.”

The other supplier de La Chapelle was referring to was Gemalto.

Other vendors, such as France-based Safran Morpho, are also offering NFC SIMs and possibly TSM services in France or plan to do so and would need to make their offerings fully interoperable with those of their competitors.

Getting the interoperability right for the national launch will be vital going forward, since, all told, at least four mobile operators and more than 10 banks, transit operators and other service providers in France already are setting up their own TSMs with vendors or are in the process of doing so. And each of these service providers TSMs will need connections with the TSMs for the mobile operators and the telcos' SIM cards.

Telcos and service providers in other countries will be watching how the French deal with this complexity as NFC rolls out, though more payments organizations and telcos appear to be forming TSM hubs or aggregators to try to reduce the number of interconnections and the complexity that this brings.

 

HEADLINE NEWS

UK Public Transit Officials in Midlands Seek to Replicate London’s Success in Pay-as-You-Go Contactless

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Transit officials in the Midlands in the UK today are calling on the government to fund a London-style contactless fare-payments system across this large section of the country, which would enable riders to tap to pay for trips on rail, bus and tram networks with either closed- and open-loop cards and credentials on smartphones.  

Post-Lockdown, Transit Riders Want Agencies to Run Vehicles More Frequently, Provide Real-Time Arrival Information and Offer Contactless and Mobile Payments

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight - Up to a third of transit riders in several cities say contactless payments and mobile ticketing would encourage them to return t

New York’s OMNY Project Completes Major Milestone, as Transit Officials Point to Steady Growth in Adoption

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it is seeing steady growth in use of its OMNY open-loop fare payments system by customers–though overall open-loop payments remain small–as the agency continues its phased rollout of acceptance of contactless EMV bank cards and NFC Pays wallets. 

In-Depth: Trip-Planning Giant Moovit Begins to Enable Ticketing and Payments, as Rivals Make Similar Moves

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Moovit, which bills itself as the world's largest “urban mobility app,” has begun to enable public transit ticketing and payments from its platform, as it seeks to deliver what it says is a true mobility-as-a-service experience for users.

Los Angeles Transit Authority Follows Through with Plans to Enable TAP Card for Apple Pay; Google Pay to Follow

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Another major U.S. transit agency has introduced a virtual closed-loop card for Apple Pay this week, with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, announcing the move Thursday. It comes a couple of days after the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, announced it had put its SmarTrip closed-loop card on Apple’s NFC-enabled devices, as well.

Apple Enables Virtual SmarTrip Fare Card for Apple Pay in Washington, D.C., with More Closed-Loop Transit Cards Expected This Year in U.S.

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Apple added support for its latest closed-loop transit card for Apple Pay, enabling customers of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, to tap their NFC-enabled iPhones and Apple Watches to pay for rides with WMATA’s SmarTrip virtual card.

Insight: Apple’s Long Game Pays Off, Conquering Resistance to Apple Pay from Banks in Europe and Beyond

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – It’s coming up on six years since Apple announced its groundbreaking digital-payments service, Apple Pay. And while consumer adoption remains a work in progress, Apple has had considerable success gaining participation from banks and other issuers in what is now more than 50 countries worldwide.

Transit Agency in Canada Plans to Launch Mobile Ticketing, Citing Covid Fears

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Another transit agency in Canada has announced it will enable mobile ticketing, along with reloadable contactless cards, citing in part the Covid-19 pandemic and the desire to reduce the use of cash, vending machines and customer interaction with agency staff.

Biggest U.S. Supermarket Chain Trials Contactless as Covid-19 Fears Increase Demand for ‘No-Touch Payments’

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – The announcement by The Kroger Co., the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., that it has begun trialing contactless payments in a subsidiary indicates that one of the last major holdouts among big U.S. merchants will eventually accept such NFC payments services as Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as contactless bank cards.

Southern California Transit Agency to Sell Tickets Via Google Maps and Google Pay; Others Expected to Follow

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – There’s more evidence that popular trip-planning apps Transit, Moovit and Google Maps are seeking to expand further into mobile ticketin

Insight: Apple Buys Mobile-POS Firm as It Seeks to Expand Acceptance of Contactless Payments

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – In a move seeking to expand the base of merchants that can accept its payments service, Apple Pay, Apple has reportedly acquired Montreal, Canada-based mobile POS company Mobeewave, which could enable small shop owners, restaurants and street vendors, among others, to more easily accept contactless EMV cards and NFC mobile wallets.

Exclusive: Google Tests Mobile Ticketing Initiated in Maps App; Could Lead to Mobility-as-a-Service Offer?

Jul 23 2020

NFC TIMES Exclusive – Three small public transit agencies in the U.S. are quietly testing use of Google Maps and Google Pay to enable customers to first plan then pay for tickets. It’s believed to be the first pilots of its kind for Google, a move that could mean the search giant plans to compete with such popular trip-planning apps as Transit and Moovit, which are starting to enable public transit ticketing and payments, NFC Times reports.