Renesas Electronics Joins the NFC Chip Fray

Yet another major chip maker, Renesas Electronics, has announced it will introduce an NFC chip targeting smartphones.

Japan-based Renesas, the largest maker of microcontrollers in the world and also a major player in the smart card chip market, announced this week on its Japanese Web site it would introduce the NFC chip with embedded secure element in March 2011, and plans to have the chip available for volume production four months later.

The announcement comes around the same time as South Korean chip maker Samsung Electronics also announced it would introduce an NFC chip combined with a secure element, joining NXP Semiconductors, Inside Contactless and STMicroelectronics with similar chips planned or already on the market. Samsung said it would have the chip available for volume production during the first quarter of 2011. Inside announced its stacked NFC-secure element only last week. And U.S.-based Texas Instruments also plans to launch an NFC chip, though not necessarily for mobile phones, in 2011.

Like the combined NFC controllers and embedded secure elements from the other chip makers, Renesas said that its new NFC product, the RF21S, would support the single-wire protocol, a standard connection to the SIM card. That would enable the SIM to carry secure applications. This will be in demand by many mobile operators that buy handsets, especially in Europe. Renesas, like Samsung, along with STMicroelectronics, also produces chips for SIM cards.

But the embedded secure chip also will be able to store such applications as payment, transit ticketing and ID. The Renesas NFC chip will support options A and B of the ISO/IEC 14443 international standard, along with FeliCa technology from Sony. Plans call for supporting Mifare, as well, said Renesas in its announcement. Renesas has a license to supply chips supporting NXP-owned Mifare, which is the most popular protocol used on transit cards and terminals worldwide. Mifare is expected to be a popular application on NFC phones, as well. Renesas said combining the secure element with the NFC controller would reduce transaction times compared with separate chips. It also touted the small size of the product.

It remains to be seen which parties will control NFC applications stored on embedded secure chips in markets where mobile operators do not distribute all of the handsets. The planned Renesas chip will support the host-controller interface software standard, which could enable SIM cards issued by telcos to control downloads to other secure elements in NFC phones.

Renesas is probably targeting smartphones based on Google’s Android operating system, among others, with the new chip. The Renesas announcement said Japanese smart card supplier Dai Nippon Printing would demonstrate the NFC chip reportedly supporting Android at the Cartes and Identification expo this coming week in Paris.


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