French Mobile Operators Plan to Sell a Million NFC Phones in 2011

With more NFC-enabled phones becoming available, including smartphones, French mobile operators today said they were confident they would sell a total of 1 million NFC handsets during 2011.

The operators, France Telecom-Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and NRJ Mobile made the projection through their NFC group, the Association Française du sans Contact Mobile, or AFSCM. A release from the association cited the "success" of a precommercial NFC launch last year in the French city of Nice and plans by nine additional cities to support the launch of NFC services as evidence of the willingness of the operators to "massively deploy" NFC phones.

But only a couple of additional cities are likely to play host to NFC services by the end of the year. Others would follow.

The declaration by the telcos follows statements by Orange late last year that it would put NFC phones on sale in its shops throughout France starting in January–with the aim of seeding the market with NFC devices. The telco, France’s largest with more than 26 million subscribers, had earlier made known its target of selling 500,000 NFC phones by the end of 2011.

At present, there are only a couple of NFC phones available in France, neither of them smartphones, including the NFC version of the Samsung S5230, Player One. 

But according to AFSCM, the French telcos are counting on availability of many more NFC models, both feature phones and smartphones, this year. The additional phones are expected by the second quarter and through the end of the year, including NFC-enabled smartphones from Samsung, LG and Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry. And an NFC-enabled iPhone from Apple is possible. 

Still, most of the NFC phones the French telcos will sell in 2011 probably won’t be used for NFC services this year, since contactless point-of-sale terminals, transit ticketing applications and smart posters for tag-reading will not have been widely deployed by then. And most subscribers probably would not be buying the phones for the NFC functionality to begin with.

Like Nice, the additional cities playing host to NFC services this year, probably Caen and Strasbourg, will be doing so mainly to demonstrate the services. Rollouts of NFC services aren’t expected until at least next year. In Nice, the four telcos have sold only a combined 3,000 of the Samsung Player One phones. NRJ Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator.

So, the announcement by the telcos of the plan to sell a total 1 million NFC phones is really designed to send a message to prospective service providers that handsets will be in the pockets of a growing number of consumers and that demand for the devices is strong among operators.

The French telcos would insist that any payment or other secure NFC applications in the phones be stored on SIM cards they issue.

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