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The NFC Report: Could NFC be in danger of being too much, too late?

I’ve had my eyes firmly fixed on the Far East for the last few weeks, in a bid to understand the technologies and business drivers behind a range of non-NFC standard mobile contactless payments systems that are successfully serving millions of people in Korea, Japan and, on a smaller scale, elsewhere.

THE NFC REPORT: A comprehensive, in-depth and international research report expected to weight in at more than 300 pages when it is published at the end of this year
THE NFC REPORT: A comprehensive, in-depth and international research report expected to weight in at more than 300 pages when it is published at the end of this year

In Korea, in particular, I came across an interesting problem. The current technology, in use since 2006, works extremely well. It doesn’t meet international standards and it operates in card emulation mode only — no reader mode or peer-to-peer mode — but, says Joo Namkung of SK C&C, which developed the Korean mobile T-Money and T-Cash solutions, whilst they have an NFC standard solution ready to deploy, the business case for making the switch to NFC just doesn’t seem to be there.

In the developing world, too, millions of people are happily using SMS-based mobile payments services to purchase goods and services. And China Mobile, the world’s largest operator, looks to have chosen a non-NFC standard RF SIM solution for the mobile contactless service it plans to launch next month.

Now Telecom Italia, which has been involved in a number of NFC trials, has announced the launch in 2010 of a SIM-based mobile commerce system that works with any mobile phone, in partnership with the Movincom Consortium of public transport, travel, entertainment and other companies. Whether this will supplement or replace its NFC plans is not yet clear (although, as soon as I’ve spoken with them, I’ll be sure to let you know!)

From a purist’s point of view, NFC remains by far the most robust and comprehensive means of delivering mobile contactless services. That comprehensiveness, however, also adds to its complexity. Despite years of work, we are still some way from the day that it becomes easy for businesses to deploy fully interoperable, supplier independent, mass market NFC services. And, at the same time, other technologies are evolving fast. Might NFC be too much, too late for some?

Needless to say, we are not just including NFC standard technologies and solutions in The NFC Report. As we begin to put the business case together for each of the potential market players and each of the potential application areas, we’re also looking at the strength of all the alternative approaches — from stickers to 2D barcodes and RF SIMs to SMS.

• The NFC Report is a comprehensive and definitive guide to the technology, applications, suppliers, business and market potential of near field communication around the world. Face to face and telephone research is now well under way and the report is scheduled for publication towards the end of 2009. Clients who order now qualify for a substantial pre-publication discount and are able to stay a step ahead of the game by accessing each section as it is completed on The NFC Report’s private website.

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