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Mobile NFC fails TfL's need-for-speed transit tests

01 June 2012  |  12723 views  |  3 Canary Wharf Clock

A senior Transport for London executive says the read-speed of NFC-enabled mobile devices is too slow for practical use on the capital's transit network.

Speaking at a mobile conference this week, Shashi Verma, director of customer experience for Transport for London, said the tube and bus network needs read-speeds up to a maximum of 500 milliseconds to handle rapid passenger throughput at peak travel times.

TfL ran successful tests of mobile access using a Nokia handset in 2007, but Verma says that industry changes since then to switch the secure element from the phone to the SIM has slowed the read speed down to above the 500 millisecond cut-off point. TfL's own Oyster cards operate at a read speed of 300 milliseconds.

The news is a blow to proponents of NFC technology, which see transit payments as a key facility in encouraging user acceptance of mobile devices for consumer spending.

In the UK this week, PayPal introduced its own mobile shopping initiative which eschews the use of NFC in favour of an app that scans barcodes and generates a transaction number for mobile payments at the checkout. The company believes that NFC is to far behind the curve for rapid adoption on the high street, with too few phones and Eftpos terminals equipped to handle the technology.

But in a report published this week by Credit Suisse in New York, analysts at the investment bank analysts suggest that 2012 could prove to be an "inflection point" for NFC adoption.

"Overall, we see the NFC semiconductor market as a large opportunity for chip suppliers driven by increasing mobile payment transactions, higher attach rates for NFC in mobile devices, and the convergence of the mobile payments ecosystem with partnerships across smartphone OEMs, service providers, financial institutions and MNOs," states the report. "We see an opportunity for the industry to ship up to 120 Million mobile NFC units in 2012, up from the modest 45-50 Million units in 2011."

Credit Suisse says efforts by Google and the telco consortium Isis to push the technology in the US, and the accelerating adoption of new technologies generally should result in "meaningful mobile payments volume within the next three years".

Comments: (3)

Brett King
Brett King - Moven - New York | 01 June, 2012, 12:30

There's only one problem with this story, Japan has been using NFC technology in the same applications (trains/buses) since 2004 with much higher volumes and has had no issues with read speed. 

It sounds like the problem is not NFC, but the UK implementation.

 

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Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune | 02 June, 2012, 19:02

By the same token, Japan has been running its trains and buses flawlessly for several decades, without closing down half its services for maintenance every weekend. Just as TfL can't get Japan's train and bus systems, it has to make do with the implementation of NFC that's available in the UK. To be fair to TfL, having done a fantastic job with Oyster contactless cards - I do love the way they work reliably even when they're not taken out from my wallet - I can very well understand its reluctance to jump into NFC. Apart from slow read speeds - at least in the UK implemenation - NFC means I've to take out my smartphone, select the appropriate app, fire it up and wait till it's ready. These are time-consuming and friction-filled steps that I can be spared. NFC is not just a solution chasing for a problem but something that introduces problems of its own that are absent with the status quo.

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Dean Procter
Dean Procter - Transinteract - Sydney | 07 June, 2012, 15:34

Possibly the UK system is so long extant it may have particular issues due to that, physical ones.

I did find other issues with NFC, the added infrastructure is immense, if buses, trains, ferries, perhaps even cabs & aircraft etc are all to use the same system, it gets pretty clunky & if your system gets compromised you may have to replace masses of equipment as well as cards. I know they say 'upgradable', but it doesn't always translate into practicality.

There are better ways. One might not include building a network of infrastructure & devices:)

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