Major Spanish Telcos Announce Standards Agreement

Spain’s three major mobile operators announced today they have signed a cooperation agreement to work on standards and interoperability of NFC services.

Telefónica, along with Spanish branch operators for Vodafone and France Telecom-Orange groups, are seeking to promote the rollout of NFC phones and services, such as payment and ticketing, by coordinating local business rules and technology standards.

But the Spanish telcos are not agreeing to collaborate on payment or other services or to roll them out together, such as telcos in the United States, Germany and a few other countries are doing.

In a press release issued today, the Spanish telcos pointed out they are not working together on business models or marketing plans. Instead, the accord "aims to achieve maximum compatibility and uniformity in both the customer experience and the technology used in order to simplify the adoption of NFC services by customers, other companies and technology providers."

The agreement appears to be similar to the cooperation model adopted by French operators Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, which in 2008 formed an association to promote technical standards and interoperability of NFC mobile applications. The French operators also are part of working groups with banks, transport operators and retailers to set down business rules and technology standards. But the telcos will roll out NFC phones and services separately from one another.

Like the French telcos, the Spanish carriers will specify that secure NFC applications, such as payment and ticketing, be stored on the SIM cards they issue. 

That may be one reason for the agreement in Spain–to put the telcos on record as promoting SIM-based applications on the NFC phones they plan to order. Many of the NFC phones expected on the market this year will carry embedded secure elements that could support payment and other applications. The same phones might also support applications on SIM cards.

The announcement also sends a message to the prospective NFC ecosystem in Spain, said Sergio Martinez-Cava Camacho, head of mobile service for mid-tier Spanish bank Bankinter, which also has a mobile virtual network operator.

"That helps show the banks, merchants and others in the value chain that NFC will be (rolled out) sooner rather than later," he told NFC Times. Bankinter launched an NFC trial last fall.

Telefónica, Spain’s largest operator, has been active in NFC, including holding a large NFC mobile-payment trial in Sitges, Spain, which it launched last May with La Caixa bank and Visa Europe. The Orange branch operator in Spain also has launched a small NFC trial in Malaga. Vodafone is not believed to have held any public trials in Spain.

There are standards bodies, such as GlobalPlatform, and trade groups, such as the GSM Association, that are working on similar technology standards and procedures for NFC on a global basis. It’s not clear how the Spanish standards would fit with these, though in the press release, the telcos specifically said they would follow the GSMA standards "to avoid market fragmentation." The GSMA is promoting the SIM as the de facto secure element.


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