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  • Thierry Spanjaard

NFC mobile wallets to find their way in transport?

It is a euphemism to say that NFC has not fulfilled its promises. A few years ago, all of us in the industry, anticipated a world in which mobile phones would replace payment cards in the vast majority of transactions. We all have to admit we were wrong: it did not happen this way, at least not yet.

However, there are still good news coming in the way of NFC deployment. Last week, Cubic Transportation Systems, and Vancouver's transportation authority, TransLink announced the fare collection system in Vancouver now supports direct payment with contactless Visa and MasterCard cards as well as NFC payments using Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay wallets. This new capability comes in addition to the Compass Card, the contactless smart card payment system Cubic designed and launched in 2015.

At the same time in Paris, Wizway Solutions, a joint venture between transport operators RATP and SNCF, secure transactions developer Gemalto, and mobile network operator Orange, will introduce in fall 2018 a pilot for public transport users that will allow them to purchase and validate their transport media on their smartphone. Users will be able to buy individual tickets as well as weekly and monthly Navigo passes, thanks to a dedicated application. Fare media will be stored on the SIM card, used as a secure element. As this requires the developers of NFC functions to open their system to third parties, it will only be available to Android users, according to announcements by the heads of RATP and SNCF. The operators plan to make the app globally available in 2019 and their mid-term goal is to get rid of cardboard tickets with magstripes by 2021. Seemingly, Parisian transport operators do not consider the opening to banking cards or the NFC mobile wallets to be part of their objectives.

This situation may evolve if another rumor materializes: Apple is said to be willing to open the access to its NFC chip a bit more than before. Apple added NFC to its iPhone series in 2014 with the launch of the iPhone 6, but restricted it only to Apple Pay. Then, with iOS 11, the handset vendor added the CoreNFC framework that allows third-party apps to access the NFC chip but still with lots of limitations. Now, according to sources, iOS 12, which is expected to be announced next month, would gain a physical access control feature developed in collaboration with HID Global. Additional rumors mention Apple is working with Cubic for the integration of public transport payment capability.

There is still good news for NFC deployment, maybe in a few years from now, we will reach the success that was forecasted for 2015.

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