An IDC Insights community blog post by Aaron McPherson alerted me to a technology I probably should have been aware of: near field communication or NFC. Wikipedia says NFC is “a simple extension of the ISO/IEC 14443 proximity-card standard”, related to RFID. For contactless payments via smart phones, the application that McPherson is discussing, it’s an alternative to 2D barcodes such as Starbucks are using to emulate a Starbucks Card on a phone.
The trigger is a third party report that Apple is planning to provide NFC in its next iPhones and iPads, following similar announcements from Google (Android) and from Isis, a joint venture of Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile in the US.
McPherson is sceptical of the viability and impact; he says that around 15% of payment terminals in merchants in the US have forward-compatible capability. He thinks that’s a small number; I’d suspect it’s quite a good base.
He certainly has a point in looking for a strong alliance of financial institutions, vendors and potential users to push the technology. But it takes quite a lot to get highly competitive mobile telecomms providers into a joint development, so there must be something out there: and indeed, the Isis press release makes it clear that financial institutions are on board.
But I’m not aiming to contribute to that discussion; and McPherson’s post is US-centric anyway. Just, primarily, to put up a flag for another potential complication in the technology of payment-via-smartphone and another very short-range communications technology. The NFC Forum is the industry association; check it out.
• NFC Forum
• Apple to roll out NFC: Will the Industry Follow? Aaron McPherson, IDC Financial Insights, 26 Jan 2011
• Near field communication, Wikikpedia (accessed 3 Feb 2011)
• AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless Announce Joint Venture to Build National Mobile Commerce Network, Verizon press release, 16 Nov 2010
• Starbucks Card mobile app for iPhone, Starbucks (accessed 3 Feb 2011)