Transport for London Calls for Faster NFC SIMs

Dec 28 2010

NFC transit ticketing is one of the most highly anticipated applications for NFC phones, especially in such regions as Europe, where the infrastructure of contactless readers is already in place in many cities.

And in Europe, the drive is strongest by mobile operators to run secure applications on SIM cards in the NFC phones.

But according to one of the premier transit operators in Europe, Transport for London, transaction times are still too slow to consider putting its application, Oyster, onto SIM cards.

"Until we see implementations of NFC that allows us to get repeatable transaction times within 500 milliseconds, this is going to be a concern for us," Will Judge, Transport for London head of future ticketing, told NFC Times.

And that 500 milliseconds limit appears to be a compromise on the part of the authority. It is still much slower than the 200 to 300 milliseconds the agency gets with its Oyster cards. And it would prefer transaction times no slower than 350 milliseconds with NFC phones or with the open-loop bank cards it plans to accept.

Any move to NFC by Transport for London is complicated by the fact it is switching its Oyster application to more secure Mifare DESFire technology from Mifare Classic, which was the subject of well-publicized hacks in 2008. Transport for London is also the biggest transit agency to date to announce it will accept payment of fares directly from credit, debit and prepaid contactless bank cards, planned to begin in early 2012 on London buses. In addition, Oyster supports a number of fare rules and discounts.

Both DESFire and bank applications, such as MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave, take longer than the speedy Mifare Classic cards. But even with the current crop of bank cards, the authority is confident it could see transaction times of less than 500 milliseconds, said Brian Dobson, future ticketing project systems manager for Transport for London.

That is not true yet for either Oyster or bank applications on SIMs. And tests of Oyster on SIMs, while conducted a year ago, show there is a long way to go.

Those tests revealed transaction times averaging about 950 milliseconds, said Dobson. Some came in at a little less than 900 milliseconds while others were just above 1 second, depending on whether it was an entry or exit transaction and what Oyster fare discount was applied on the particular card. The tests were conducted with early DESFire SIMs. It’s not clear why the transit authority has not conducted more recent Oyster-SIM tests, or if it has conducted tests of open-loop bank payment of fares from NFC SIMs.

Keeping the Flow
Speed is essential for Transport for London, especially on the crowded London Underground. Other tests conducted by the authority determined that transaction speeds of more than 350 milliseconds would interrupt the flow of passengers through turnstiles at busy stations. While the agency is shooting for this speed or less, it has since increased the maximum it would accept to 500 milliseconds, apparently to accommodate open-loop bank cards.

The agency is pinning its hopes on a new generation of smart card chips coming out to increase speeds, both for bank payment cards–which the authority hopes to use to phase out Oyster–and for SIMs. That includes the SmartMX2 From NXP Semiconductors, designed to run multiple applications securely and with greater speed. The product, however, would be used for embedded chips in bank cards and NFC phones, not SIMs.

"The response time is still a major constraint that has to be addressed to move TfL (Transport for London) from doing (NFC) pilots to full production support," Dobson told NFC Times, who said the authority does not yet "have plans to commit to putting Oyster on a SIM."

The authority’s focus now is moving to acceptance of open-loop payment of fares from dual-interface chip-and-PIN bank cards. But it will continue to accept and issue some Oyster cards and would likely need to eventually put Oyster on SIMs.

But the unacceptable speed at present means it is unlikely an Oyster application will be part of the commercial launch of NFC services in London by mobile operator Orange UK and its Everything Everywhere joint venture, expected in the first part of 2011. If true, the absence of the popular Oyster application could limit the appeal of the new offer. The telco, working with Barclays bank unit Barclaycard, wants to put NFC applications on SIM cards. After the transit authority begins accepting open-loop payment, commuters could tap their phones to pay fares with bank applications on SIMs, assuming the payment-card schemes have certified the SIMs to carry the applications. 

Other transit agencies also will be asked to put their applications on SIMs, including a small but growing number moving from Mifare Classic to DESFire or Mifare Plus, a companion product that is also more secure than Classic.

It’s not clear from interviews the reasons for the slower performance of DESFire on SIMs compared with cards or even with embedded chips in phones. It may be software on the SIMs or the connection between the SIM and NFC chip. But Netherlands-based NXP Semiconductors, owner of Mifare Technology and a provider of NFC chips that support the single-wire protocol connection between the SIM and NFC chip, said the connection should not slow things down.

"What I can say, architecturally, there is no reason it should be slower on the SIM than the embedded secure element," Henri Ardevol, vice president and general manager of secure transactions for NXP, told NFC Times.

Representatives from France-based Gemalto, which supplies DESFire SIMs, noted that the Transport for London tests were conducted some time ago.

"I think we are getting much better performance," said Rémi de Fouchier, senior vice president, trusted services management, at Gemalto. "If your requirement is (that) it is as fast a contactless card, then there is a big challenge."

More Demand for DESFire
But he said the speed would be acceptable to transit fare-collection operators, and the transaction times are within the requirements of Transport for London.

Rival SIM vendor Oberthur Technologies along with chip maker STMicroelectronics earlier this month announced they, too, would offer a DESFire-enabled SIM for NFC phones. And a growing number of cities are adopting DESFire for their transit cards, including Toronto, Bangkok, Madrid and Sydney. They might later need to support the technology on NFC phones.

Most NFC trials of transit ticketing have been conducted with the applications running on embedded secure chips in the phones, not on SIMs.

But a precommercial pilot being conducted by French mobile operators and service providers in Nice runs the local transit application from Veolia Transport on SIM cards, and there haven’t been complaints about transaction speeds. Update: A representative from Veolia told NFC Times that transaction times in Nice with the transit operator's BPass application on the SIM are running much less than 500 milliseconds. "In fact, you cannot feel the difference between a (transit) card and BPass," he said. End update

The pilot is being conducted in a less hurried environment than the metro, on buses and trams, and uses a transit application based on the Calypso standard. At present, fewer than 3,000 NFC phones are in use for the pilot.

SIM-based transit ticketing will become important when NFC rolls out, especially where GSM mobile operators hold sway. Many of them are convinced that hosting payment and ticketing applications on their SIMs will be key to their ability to earn revenue from enabling NFC services.

And industry vendors, for their part, say their products will not slow commuters down.

Transport for London is not yet convinced, however, with Judge, the future ticketing head, even suggesting telcos might want to consider dropping the idea of putting transit applications on SIM cards.

"They’ve (transactions) got to be faster, and the people who will have to give way are the operators," he said.

Given the revenue possibilities they see with NFC, telcos are unlikely to drop the idea of SIM-based applications–though they would consider hosting applications on embedded chips in NFC phones if they control the chips. 

It’s more likely they’ll be working to increase the speed of the NFC-enabled SIM chips they issue and the software implementations on the cards.

 

Article comments

 
golfman Dec 21 2010

This is critical issue in deed. We face same neck problem in China.

Please register or login to post a comment.

HEADLINE NEWS

Software-as-Service Platforms for Transit Agencies Begin to Support Open-Loop Payments

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – In what is believed to be a first, a transit agency in Europe plans to accept contactless credit and debit cards using a third-party software-as-a-service platform this summer, UK-based platform provider Masabi told NFC Times, although the company declined to name the agency. The project is expected to begin as a pilot.

Apple Launches Overdue Octopus Payments Service in Hong Kong, as It Continues to Seek More Transit Applications for Wallet

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Apple today finally launched its Octopus transit payments service in Hong Kong on Apple Pay, nearly a year after the service was originally announced and more than two years after rival Samsung introduced a similar service in the market.

Mastercard: Contactless Payments in Europe Approach 80% of Card Transactions; Pandemic Causes More Consumers to Shun Cash

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – While contactless payments in Europe were already commonplace and continue to grow, the Covid-19 pandemic has created even more interest in the technology among consumers, according to a report released Thursday by Mastercard. The report includes a survey showing that consumers in eight major European markets say they use NFC-enabled smartphones and wearables for a combined 32% of all contactless transactions, a spokeswoman confirmed to NFC Times.

UPDATED: Ohio-Based Transit Agency Group Planning to Enable Mobile Ticketing Through Uber App

Jun 3 2020

NFC TIMES Exclusive – A consortium of 13 small and mid-tier transit agencies in Ohio and Northern Kentucky plans to enable customers to buy public transit tickets directly in the Uber app as early as this summer, following two other U.S. transit agencies, in Denver and Las Vegas, which have already integrated with Uber.

Samsung Details Planned Mobile-Money Service as It Seeks to Keep Pace with Rival Apple Pay

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Samsung offered more details today about its Samsung Money debit card and “mobile-first” money management service for its Samsung Pay app, which it plans to launch in the U.S. this summer with personal finance fintech SoFi. Samsung had disclosed plans for the new service earlier this month.

Networks: Contactless Transactions Soar as Pandemic Takes Toll on Cash

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – In announcing their respective quarterly results this week, both Visa and Mastercard, as expected, discussed the major disruption that Covid-19 is wreaking on the payments business. But they also noted that there is one unexpected victim of the pandemic: cash.

Prompted by Pandemic Fears, Last of Australia’s Big Four Banks Ends Apple Pay Holdout

May 12 2020

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Citing the increased demand for cashless payments because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Westpac today became the last of Australia’s big four banks to adopt Apple Pay, ending a four-year holdout that had lasted months, even years longer than its major rivals.

Insight: MaaS Backers Believe New Mobility Platforms Could Help Transit Providers Win Back Their Customers’ Trust

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – With Covid-19 lockdowns causing mass transit ridership in many cities to virtually fall off a cliff–with such cities as London, New York and San Francisco reporting drops of more than 90%–transport providers worry that some riders may not come back, even after the pandemic ends.

In-Depth: Government Regulation of Mobility-as-a-Service Seen as Necessary to Encourage Widespread Adoption

Apr 16 2020

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Government legislation will likely be needed for widespread adoption of Mobility-as-a-Service, or MaaS, to occur, according to UK-based Juniper Research, which believes that the regulations will be necessary to force MaaS providers, including transit service providers, to work together, as well as to persuade users to get out of their cars to cut carbon emissions.

Apple Pay Expands Support for Interoperable Closed-Loop Transit Cards in China, Though Not First NFC Pays Wallet to Do So

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – Apple on Wednesday expanded support for closed-loop transit payments across China, incorporating China’s T-Union interoperable transit cards in its Apple Pay service.

Insight: Virus Adds Urgency to Increasing Contactless Limits but Won’t Necessarily Drive Growth in Acceptance

NFC TIMES Exclusive Insight – While the Covid-19 virus outbreak is building awareness for contactless and NFC payments and is accelerating the increase in already low contactless transaction limits in Europe, it remains to be seen how much it will convince more merchants to accept contactless in the U.S.

Exclusive: After 10 Months, Sales of Public Transit Tickets in Uber App Still Make Up Small Share of Mobile Ticketing in Denver

Mar 24 2020

NFC TIMES Exclusive – Since last May, when ride-hailing service Uber officially began enabling customers to book and pay for public transit tickets in Denver directly in the Uber app, use of the service remains relatively low, accounting for less than 3% of all mobile tickets purchased by customers of Denver public transit agency RTD, NFC Times has learned.