RIM Stays Mum on Plans for Embedded Chips in NFC Phones

Research in Motion is continuing to decline comment on its plans for embedded secure chips in its forthcoming BlackBerry NFC phones.

The handset maker in the past has said it would work with mobile operators as it begins to roll out NFC phones this year. But a new report contends that RIM is seeking to go around telcos to put applications on the embedded chips. Among the assertions are that RIM has talked directly to banks about putting payment applications on the secure chips and that it seeks to use the chips to bind users to its phones.

The Wall Street Journal article today cites unnamed mobile operators in North America with the charge. U.S. and Canadian carriers have declined comment, but Robin Dua, head of EnStream, a mobile-money joint venture of the three largest Canadian mobile carriers, Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus, anticipates a battle between the Canada-based handset maker and telcos. EnStream has introduced a peer-to-peer mobile-money service, Zoompass, and has tested contactless stickers at the point of sale.

"The carriers have been saying in a gentle way to RIM, 'Guys, you won't be doing this,'" Dua was quoted as saying, "I think it's going to be a little bit of a fight, frankly."

Dua could not be reached for comment to confirm the quote. RIM also is declining comment on the article.

In comments this week at the Mobile Financial Services conference in London in response to a question from NFC Times, one RIM representative said the handset maker, "for obvious reasons," was "very restrictive" about revealing what it has planned for NFC.

"We’re investing a lot of time, people and energy talking to a whole host of partners across the ecosystem to figure out how the technology could be used," said Rory O’Neill, senior director for global enterprise segment marketing in Europe for RIM. "Again, we’re committed to NFC. Many of our future smartphones this year will include NFC. What were focusing on now is working out the software and services stack around that."

He added that development of services by RIM was still in an "embryonic stage."

As NFC Times has reported earlier, the battle over control of secure chips in NFC phones is moving to the embedded secure elements expected to be included in most NFC smartphones hitting the market this year.

Whereas before, the battle over the secure element was between banks and telcos, the new fight appears to be pitting mobile operators against device and platform suppliers. The latter have realized the secure chip could be a valuable piece of real estate in the forthcoming NFC phones. They could perhaps rent space to service providers or use the chips to secure revenue-producing apps they distribute through their app stores.

Google is building a mobile wallet and along with handset makers using Google’s Android operating system might try to control the embedded chips in the phones. That could create a wallet war with U.S. carriers in the Isis venture, which AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile announced in November. Sprint, which earlier dropped out of the planned joint venture, has its own NFC mobile commerce plans, NFC Times has learned, although details are sketchy.

RIM, however, usually cooperates with mobile operators and is not in the strongest of positions to go up against mobile carriers–especially in the United States, where the main distribution channel for phones is through carriers. RIM has seen its market share slipping in recent years against Apple iPhone and more recently, smartphone makers using Google’s Android platform.

Mobile operators, especially in Europe, are planning to put secure NFC applications, such as payment, on the SIM cards they issue. And the telcos, such as France Telecom-Orange, have looked on with some concern as smartphone makers order NFC chips stacked with embedded secure elements.

Andrew Bocking, vice president for handheld software product management at RIM, tried to be reassuring to telcos at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, saying that the handset maker was "committed to our partners, partners such as Orange."

"We envision that the SIM will be a key part of that (NFC services), and we’ll make sure that is part of our offer,” said Bocking, appearing at a session on NFC. “The key is enabling the ecosystem."

But in response to a question in Barcelona by NFC Times, Bocking declined to say what RIM has planned for the embedded secure chips.

"There are a lot of opportunities there, and we want to make sure we enable all the members of the ecosystem," he said.

RIM is said to have insisted that the NFC chips include embedded secure elements. Inside’s SecuRead NFC chip is stacked with such an embedded secure chip, which could store applications that RIM controls, NFC Times has reported. In most NFC smartphones expected to be shipped this year, including BlackBerrys, secure elements could be enabled on both SIM cards and embedded chips.

Some have suggested RIM has a less controversial focus for the embedded chips–planning to use them to securely store ID credentials as part of network and physical access applications the handset maker provides for its large base of corporate and other enterprise users.

Bocking, during his presentation last month in Barcelona mentioned a number of applications that RIM believes its NFC phones might be used for, including retail payment, transit ticketing, access control for corporate campuses, sharing contacts and pictures, and activating accessories. The company is building application-programming interfaces for the applications, he indicated. 

"There are hundreds if not thousands of scenarios that NFC could enable for those use cases," he said.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said last month that "many, if not most" of the company’s smartphones released throughout this year would include NFC.

RIM ranked as the fourth largest mobile phone maker worldwide in 2010 with shipments of 47.5 million units, according to U.S.-based Gartner research.

 

HEADLINE NEWS

Case Study: Transit Agency in Portugal Combined NFC with BLE for Mobile Ticketing; Faced Challenges

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – The agency that runs ticketing for 19 public bus, tram and train operators serving Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, says it has had success–and faced several challenges–with the rollout of its Anda mobile-ticketing app.

OMNY Hits New Usage Milestone as Open-Loop Payments Rollout Continues

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, says it continues to see steady growth of its open-loop fare payments service, OMNY, announcing 50 million taps by customers using NFC wallets and bank cards to ride the massive New York City Subway and the city’s buses.

In-Depth: Contactless Open-Loop Pilot in Spain First Project from Vendor Partnership

Mar 11 2021

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Bilbobus, which operates bus service for the city of Bilbao, in northern Spain’s Basque region, says it launched its recent trial of con

Moscow Metro Plans Rollout of ‘Face Pay’ Technology for Fare Collection

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – The Moscow Metro plans to roll out facial-recognition technology at every station by the end of 2021 to enable customers to pay fares, officials say. The project, while delayed, would be the largest of its kind globally.

Stockholm Transit Agency Launches Open-Loop Fare Payments for Multimodal Rides

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Stockholm Public Transport, or SL, the city-owned company that oversees major public transport in the city, is the latest agency in Europe to launch open-loop fare collection, offering multimodal rides with a tap of a contactless EMV bank card or NFC device.

Case Study: Amsterdam Transit Operator Seeks to Go Nearly 100% Digital for Ticketing to Cut Costs and Enhance Service

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – GVB, Amsterdam’s largest public transit operator, says it seeks to replace an aging closed-loop fare card system and go to open-loop and other digital tokens with the planned rollout of its new account-based ticketing system.

Google Announces Plans to Enable Public Transit Ticketing in Maps App along with Rollout of Parking Fare Payments

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Google has announced plans to launch public transit ticketing for more than 80 cities globally in coming weeks from its trip-planning Maps app and also to enable users to buy virtual closed-loop fare cards–starting with the Clipper card in the San Francisco Bay Area–directly from the app. That’s in addition to enabling payments for parking in more than 400 U.S. cities.

UPDATED: U.S. Federal Government Awards Grants to Help Transit Agencies Roll Out Contactless Payments and Mobile Ticketing

Feb 18 2021

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – U.S. public transit agencies have been keen to remove cash and paper tickets from their buses and trains and to keep more distance between customers and agency staffers because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now they are getting a new boost from the U.S. federal government in the form of grant funds to enable them to enhance contactless and mobile payments systems, among other measures.

German Transit Agency Plans to Complete Open-Loop Rollout on Buses and Trains This Quarter, Expand to Other Mobility Later

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – German transit agency SWB Bus and Bahn plans to fully roll out its contactless EMV fare payments service BONNsmart to its bus and train lines by the end of the first quarter, after launching a pilot last fall, confirmed a spokesman, who added that plans call for eventually expanding the contactless service to payments for parking and such micromobility modes as e-scooters.

Large Private U.S. Bus Company Latest to Adopt Mobile Ticketing in Covid Era

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Academy Bus, a large private commuter and charter bus company serving the U.S. East Coast, has launched its first mobile-ticketing service with the SilverPass app, enabling commuters to purchase digital tickets with credit cards or employer benefit cards.

LA Transit Authority Introduces Virtual TAP Card on Android, Complementing Earlier Launch with Apple

Feb 2 2021

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, has followed through with plans to offer Android NFC phone users a way to pay fares with the agency’s TAP closed-loop fare card.

Penetration Rates for Contactless Payments Saw Strong Growth in 2020, including in U.S., Say Networks

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – The CEOs of both Visa and Mastercard in their respective earnings calls yesterday confirmed that contactless payments continued to grow as a share of all face-to-face card payments, with consumer fears of handling cash building on already strong growth trends for the technology.