Transport for London to accept NFC payments from 2012

TfL has agreed to relax its transaction speed requirements to allow payments on London’s bus and underground network to be made via NFC phones and contactless cards from next year — and expects faster NFC phones and contactless cards to arrive in the near future.

A London Underground sign
DOBSON: London's transport network will start taking NFC payments next year

Transport for London (TfL) has stated it will support NFC payments on mobile phones in 2012.

TfL is now in the process of deploying new contactless card readers on London’s tube and bus network. This will enable users of contactless EMV credit and debit cards and NFC mobile phones to ‘swipe and go’ on the London Underground and associated services.

Brian Dobson, manager of technology and systems for TfL’s Future Ticketing Project — established two years ago to look at life post-Oyster — told NFC World: “We are now in a position to say that if people come along with a contactless credit or debit card application on their mobile, we can accept it as an NFC payment in 2012. NFC will work on our new systems from the time that we are able to accept contactless cards.”

New, up-to-date contactless card readers that will allow EMV contactless card users and NFC phone owners with NFC operating in card emulation mode will be available on the London Underground from next year. The technology roll-out will be completed during 2013.

However, the speed that transactions are able to take place using both EMV contactless cards and NFC has been a point of contention for TfL. The organisation has stringent speed requirements in order to keep congestion at stations low during peak times.

Oyster cards, which were upgraded to use the more secure Mifare Desfire chip several years ago, are able to complete a transaction in 300 to 350 milliseconds. The added encryption-based security of the Desfire card means each transaction takes a little longer than with the original Mifare Classic card.

“We expect that the embedded secure element will enable faster transaction times than having a secure element in the SIM.”

TfL has set a minimum speed requirement of 350ms for high volume use, yet current contactless EMV card technology, with its even higher security, transacts much more slowly at around 500ms. In response to this, TfL has made its requirements known to card companies, who have provided samples of future cards expected to arrive between 2012 and 2014 that will achieve transaction times of between 300 and 350ms.

In the meantime, Dobson says that the half-second transaction speed of cards being distributed by financial institutions now (with each card having a three year life) is “acceptable for low volume use.” By the time these cards are replaced with faster cards, TfL’s entire roll-out of card readers will be in place and ready to accept broader usage, he says.

“Our initial infrastructure roll-out in 2012 and 2013 will support current contactless cards, as the UK banks have already issued them,” says Dobson. “500ms is acceptable for a low volume of users, but to get faster, high volume use, we need faster cards.

“We are cautiously stepping forward; our roll-out plan complements Oyster very well. It’s not about a big bang, but working steadily to ensure everything goes smoothly.”

While TfL cannot say how fast future NFC mobile devices will be able to transact, Dobson says he has been assured by NFC proponents that he “will be pleasantly surprised.” He adds: “Some people are likely to use an embedded secure NFC element, while others will use SIM security. We expect that the embedded secure element will enable faster transaction times than having a secure element in the SIM.”

Contactless card payments and NFC are a step forward for TfL, reducing complexity of managing payments and increasing security for end users. Dobson explains: “Oyster is complex; all the travel information is held on the card, so throughout a day of travel costs need to be added and discounted every time a user passes through a station. Contactless EMV cards don’t need to store any complex information as you travel, as everything goes through to the back office, which removes the complexity by providing policy changes in one place at the end of the day, rather than thousands of calculations.

“[This] takes us into the security standards of the financial services industry, rather than those of the transport industry.”

“Also, our strategy to move to contactless EMV card payments and NFC mobile payments takes us into the security standards of the financial services industry, rather than those of the transport industry. We will use their technology, taking the burden off of us while ensuring the highest security levels for our customers,” he says.

Stage one of the roll-out began with London’s 8,000 buses one month ago, starting with a “SIM element” that will allow 3G over-the-air communication between the bus and the back office; at the moment, bus drivers have to manually remove a data cartridge from the bus ticketing system at the end of their shift and load the data onto the back office system at the bus depot.

The bus SIM element aspect of the programme will be completed by the end of this year, and the process to replace the current Oyster card readers on buses will begin in early 2012, with the system up and running in the first quarter.

Following the bus deployment, TfL will begin the complicated task of replacing the 20,000 Oyster contactless card readers that have been in operation on the London Underground since 2002.

TfL carried out NFC mobile payments trials in 2008 with O2, Visa and Barclaycard. Dobson states the trial went very well, but a lack of mobile devices in the marketplace meant TfL had to wait for the market to catch up with its interest in innovating the UK travel industry.

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2 comments on this article

  1. “Using a DESFire card instead of a mifare Classic significantly affects the transaction time?”
    Eh? On-card 3DES security only takes a few milliseconds, and the difference between the on-card Mifare classic security operations and the on-card DESFire security operations surely would be no more than 2ms. So where has the rest of the increased transaction time come from?

  2. I think the speed issue referred to in the article is mostly to do with the move from Mifare to EMV and NFC, rather than particular types of Mifare solutions.

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