Oberthur Licenses Mifare from NXP Semiconductors

Despite its membership in a competing transit vendor group, France-based Oberthur Technologies has agreed to license Mifare technology from NXP Semiconductors for use in SIM cards that could support Mifare transit applications in NFC phones.

Oberthur follows rival smart card maker Gemalto in licensing Mifare for its SIMs. As with Gemalto, the license would enable Oberthur to use any of its semiconductor suppliers' chips for high-end Mifare applications. Besides transport, those applications in NFC phones could include event ticketing, customer loyalty and access control.

But unlike Gemalto, Oberthur is also a member of the Open Standard for Public Transport, or OSPT, announced last year as an "open-standard" alternative to Mifare. The first OSPT chips are not yet available, and Oberthur’s decision to license the high-end Mifare technology, Mifare DESFire and Mifare Plus, could be recognition that OSPT rollouts by transit operators might be years off.  

At the same time, some important transit authorities are beginning to move to the high-end Mifare ticketing, including those in London, Madrid, Toronto and Sydney, which have adopted DESFire. Some, such as Transport for London, are moving to the more-secure DESFire from already-hacked Mifare Classic.

NXP restricts the licenses for its valuable Mifare franchise. Besides Gemalto and Oberthur, only chip makers STMicroelectronics and Renesas Electronics have licenses to produce chips supporting Mifare DESFire or Plus on SIM cards and dual-interface chips for bank cards. NXP, which is not a SIM chip provider, would produce chips for standalone Mifare DESFire and Plus cards along with dual-interface chips. That’s in addition to earning royalties on the Mifare licenses.

Among chip makers that are apparently locked out by NXP from licenses to the more secure Mifare technology are France-based Inside Secure and Infineon Technologies of Germany. Those two companies are the co-founding chip makers in the OSPT, using technology Infineon has developed. The group has agreed to license the technology freely.

Infineon has a grandfathered license to produce chips compatible with Mifare Classic, still used by many transit operators.

Germany-based card vendor Gieseke and Devrient was also a co-founding member of OSPT, along with Oberthur, Infineon and Inside. Watchdata Technologies and the Open Ticketing Institute of the Netherlands have since joined.

While more secure Mifare applications are expected to be rolled out on NFC phones, chip and card vendors will have to make the technology faster, especially for transit authorities or operators that run busy metro stations.

Transport for London, which has been experimenting with Mifare DESFire applications on SIM cards, told NFC Times that internal tests showed transactions were taking around 1 second, compared with less than 300 milliseconds for cards. The authority said it would accept transaction times from NFC phones no slower than 500 milliseconds.

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