The NFC Report: Is China heading towards the adoption of NFC?

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator with 470 million subscribers, and China Unionpay, the national bank card association, were amongst the first in the world to field test NFC back in 2006. Now, both companies are taking a second look at mobile contactless payments and mobile operator China Unicom is getting in on the action too…

SHANGHAI: Set to be the testing ground for mobile contactless services in China
SHANGHAI: Set to be the testing ground for mobile contactless services in China

In the earliest days of NFC, China was home to some of the very first trials of near field communication technology.

In 2006, China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, conducted a trial in the city of Xiamen in conjunction with Nokia, Philips (now NXP) and local transport card operator Xiamen E-Tong Card.

In the same year, bank card association China UnionPay ran the first trial to include over-the-air downloading of an NFC application, with a loyalty programme piloted in Shanghai.

2006 also saw the first test of Watchdata’s SIMpass, a SIM-and-antenna solution that can be retrofitted to most mobile phones and that is now in use in nine Chinese cities and in Thailand.

Positive feedback from the Xiamen trial led to China Mobile seriously examining the possibility of a commercial rollout of NFC in 2007, but the operator is reported to have abandoned the plan after deciding that the then available handset options were not sufficiently robust.

Now, China Mobile is taking a second look at NFC and has plans for a commercial rollout of mobile contactless payments, beginning with a large scale pilot to be held alongside the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. All options are being considered, however, and the operator has expressed a preference for a mobile contactless solution that doesn’t require consumers to upgrade their handsets. So, although all the leading players in the NFC market have submitted handset solutions for consideration by China Mobile, it is by no means certain it will be a standard NFC solution that is chosen.

China Unionpay, meanwhile, ran a second trial in Shanghai in 2008, this time in partnership with several leading banks and involving 300 points of sale. But, until recently, it looked as though the card association was taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude when it came to China Mobile’s mobile payment plans.

That all changed last week, however, when China Unionpay unveiled an NFC solution of its own at a trade fair in Beijing and announced that it had already tested the system in three different locations. The card association has not revealed any details regarding a commercial rollout as yet, however.

Meanwhile, China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile operator, has this week launched a mobile transport ticketing service in Shanghai and has plans to expand it to include retail payments soon. Whether the technology used is NFC is not yet clear — we’ll have more details soon.

Full details of these latest plans and NFC experiences in China to date are available to purchasers of The NFC Report on the report’s website and we will, of course, be keeping a close eye on developments in China and providing updates over the coming months.

• The NFC Report is the most comprehensive guide available to the technology, applications, suppliers and market potential of near field communication around the world. The report is scheduled for publication towards the end of 2009 and clients who order now will be able to stay a step ahead of the game by accessing each section of the report as it is completed, via The NFC Report’s customer-only website.

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