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Standards! Standards! Standards!

Week 44, 2007

The industry needed time to agree on the communication protocol between the SIM and the NFC module (cf. Smart Insights #06-47), and finally agreed upon the Single Wire Protocol (SWP). But, the SWP only provides for low level communication layers. The current issue revolves around the communication protocol between the SIM card and the NFC chip. Major players in the industry agree the HCI (Host-Controller Interface) protocol should be used for the SIM to NFC module communication, as well as for the interface between the NFC chip and the handset base band processor. This group, that includes Gemalto, Inside contactless, and most of the smart card industry as well as network operators, has standardized the HCI protocol as the means of communication between the SIM and the NFC module in the ETSI (European Telecom Standards Institute), the international body in charge of telecom standardization. But some other industrialists (Nokia, Microsoft, …) in the NFC Forum would prefer to standardize a different HCI version.This is the latest occurrence of a long standing standardization struggle between the card industry and the handset industry to exercise some control on mobile applications. The ETSI standardized version would allow to balance the roles between the NFC module and the handset, a position which is opposed by some industrialists who would be happy to limit the HCI protocol to the connection between the base band processor and the NFC chip.

"Delaying standardization would make NFC develop slower, and having to support two HCI interfaces would make NFC modules more expensive", said Bruno Charrat, chief scientist at Inside contactless.

The success of the SIM came from its heavy degree of standardization: billions of users know that any SIM card coming from any manufacturer, issued by any telecom operator, inserted in any handset, will work on any operator's network. NFC will only be successful if the industry is able to make that any NFC application running on any SIM and handset allows to perform transaction with any merchant, and this on a worldwide basis.

Thierry Spanjaard

Chief Editor

Smart Insights