Nokia joins NFC fray

Some German bus commuters should soon try using their mobile phones as electronic wallets when a new trial of the technology called Near Field Communications (NFC) gets underway.

On Tuesday, Nokia and Koninklijke Philips Electronics announced a wireless ticketing trial with RMV, a public transportation authority in Germany. The trial will focus on using a new clamshell Nokia phone, the 3220, that features embedded NFC technology in its cover, and contactless smart card ticketing infrastructure, the companies said in a statement.

The Nokia-Philips announcement follows a flurry of other recent NFC moves by companies such as NTT DoCoMo, Motorola and Samsung Electronics.

NFC has evolved from a combination of RFID (radio frequency identification) and interconnection technologies. It enables any two devices to connect and exchange information or access content and services simply by bringing them together over a distance of a few centimeters. Operating in the 13.56 MHz range, NFC is also designed to work on other protocols, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing devices to communicate at longer ranges or transfer data at higher rates.

Philips and Sony, which jointly developed NFC technology, teamed in March with Nokia to launch the NFC Forum in a move to promote the standardization and implementation of this new short-range wireless technology.

At the Frankfurt, Germany, trial, RMV customers will use 3220 phones with the NFC shell to buy, store and use bus tickets. The electronic ticketing application, which has been developed together with the Association of German Transport Operators, is stored in an integrated smart card in the phone. Users simply touch their phones against a contactless reader as they enter the bus.

Nokia plans to offer one version of the 3220 model in Europe and Asia, and another for the Americas, the company said. Phones will be available in Europe in the first quarter of 2005 and during the second quarter in the Americas and Asia.

Several other companies hope to tap NFC's potential. Last month, Motorola announced plans to test mobile phones equipped MasterCard International Inc.'s PayPass contactless payment technology. The phones will enable customers to make payments by positioning their handsets next to a PayPass reader equipped with NFC technology.

In August, Samsung said it was teaming with Philips to manufacturer mobile devices that use Philips' NFC chips. Panasonic Mobile Communications, Sharp and Fujitsu have also joined the NFC fray.

The push to develop a wireless noncontact payment system received a big boost at the end of last year when NTT DoCoMo announced a string of trials. The Japanese operator has worked closely with Sony to integrate the latter's Felica noncontact smart card system into a form factor that can be integrated into a mobile phone. The project has tied the two companies under a new joint venture, Felica Networks, that is responsible for developing and licensing the technology interested companies.

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