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NFC still not so near?

Published on  09 August by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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Near field communications (NFC) is an emerging technology that can be used on new smartphones. It allows communications between the phone and a NFC reader or another NFC phone to transfer information. Because it is secure, NFC is seen as an opportunity for everything from electronic wallets, where money can be stored and transferred, to credit card information. It can even replace the traditional card swipe for payment.

The travel industry is looking closely at the many possible uses. Electronic boarding passes is an especially promising area. These could be stored on the phone, allowing the passenger to board via a touch of the phone to a reader rather than the traditional paper boarding pass or a barcode on the mobile handset screen. NFC can be read more easily than the barcode on a screen, and it can still work when a phone is out of battery life or turned off.

While this all sounds quite promising, it relies on a set of agreed upon standards about how information gets securely stored and accessed. This is where the proverbial fly enters the proverbial ointment. The opportunity for various players to get their hands into the credit card and payment processing value chain via control over these standards has resulted in the early branching into three different efforts. One is led by folks who do phone software - Apple and Google. Another is the telcos - Verizon, Vodaphone, Orange. And the third is the credit card processors - Visa and MasterCard. They have each put forward a different approach. The phone folks want the standards to use their OS and NFC chip designs. The telcos want it to go on the SIM card, since they control that. While the credit card companies want to issue their own Micro-SD cards, which you put into the phone, and whose security, format and use would be controlled by them. This lack of agreement on a standard way to use NFC is sure to slow down adoption rates across all industries.

In SITA Lab, we just completed a project with our partner, Orange Business Services, that will demonstrate a live prototype that lets you check in with your smartphone on SITA's departure control system, then use a NFC reader to board at the gate. This demo will be available for viewing in the Lab demonstration area of our Geneva office beginning in September.

Drop me a note at Jim Peters@sita.aero if you would like to see it in action.

As we built this prototype, we learned more about what uses NFC might be put to in the air transport industry, as well as the standards fragmentation that will be a strong headwind against near-term adoption. We hope for early resolution of this issue so we can forge ahead with some live trials as the next step.

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