NFC in select Nokia smartphones next year

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Speaking at the MobeyForum conference, Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki has reaffirmed the company's commitment to NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. Starting from 2011, Nokia's global Symbian smartphone portfolio will begin to include NFC functionality. However it may, or may not, be included in all country variants. NFC is a short range (~10cm), high frequency wireless communication technology; the major uses are likely to be in Bluetooth pairing, reading RFID tags (e.g. smart posters), mobile ticketing (e.g. London's Oyster system) and mobile payment (contactless payment). 

Nokia and NFC

Nokia has produced a number of Series 40 handset with NFC functionality (Nokia 6131 and Nokia 6212) built in. These have been used in a number of trials for both mobile ticketing and mobile payment.

Nokia is not making a commitment to include NFC in all of its smartphones in 2011 (as reported elsewhere). Rather it is saying that it will start to introduce it into its smartphone portfolio in 2011. As with other technologies that Nokia has introduced in recent years (e.g. GPS), it will likely first appear in high-end devices and then trickle down to lower end devices over time. 

In order for NFC to be secured (vital for some in the use cases outlined above), additional hardware is needed, which effectively acts as the security and identity module. There are currently three main approaches that are being considered. Firstly, using the SIM card (also known as SWP), secondly using an NFC-enabled  memory card (microSD) and thirdly using a module embedded in the phone (previously used by Nokia). Nokia is currently evaluating these different approaches, and is not disclosing, at the current time, which it will use in its forthcoming NFC implementations.

NFC is scheduled to be one of the new features in the Symbian^4 platform. It was originally targeted for inclusion in Symbian^3, but was pushed back to the later release to avoid overall delays. Therefore it seems likely that we will see NFC in a select number of Nokia's Symbian^4 products, in select markets, at some point in 2011.

NFC potential

NFC has the potential to become a very significant technology going forward. It could be an enabler for many of the future concepts that are regularly seen in 'mobile future' videos. However, it has had a mixed history - being something of a 'nearly' technology for the past few years. 

The initial use cases of NFC are likely to be around helping improve the user experience in device to device interactions. Rather than competing with Bluetooth, it is most likely to be used as a complementary technology. The two most commonly cited examples are the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices by touching them together and business card exchange between two devices, again by touching them together.

The most financially lucrative use cases are around mobile ticketing and mobile payment. However these are areas where regulatory frameworks, vested interests and disagreements over who should control the identity of the consumer (generally operators favour the SIM card (SWP) approach, manufacturers prefer embedded hardware approach) may slow uptake and availability of services.

A similar technology, FeliCa, is widely used in Japan. It is implemented in mobile phones as Osaifu-Keitai (which means 'wallet-phone', as was pioneered by NTT DoCoMo). Uses include ticketing on public transport, as an identity card, as a loyalty card in shops, for electronic money (pre-pay) and as a credit card. As of December 2009, 34 million Osaifu-Keitai phones were in use in Japan.

Rafe Blandford