Chip maker NXP Semiconductors has unveiled a near field communication (NFC) chip designed to help propel the adoption of contactless mobile services.
The PN544 controller is the company's second-generation NFC chip, and is based on the latest European Telecommunications Standard Institute specifications, which were ratified during the first quarter of this year.
Mobile-based NFC is starting to gain traction following several successful trials, including O2 Wallet in the UK which integrated a Barclays OnePulse account and an Oyster travel card into a prototype Nokia phone.
Progress has generally been slow, but sectors such as the transport industry and fast food and convenience store chains have readily adopted the technology, and many retailers are holding out for a global standard before committing.
"NXP co-invented NFC with the aim of putting the mobile phone at the centre of the consumer's world, and the launch of this latest NFC chip brings that aim even closer," said Chris Feige, general manager of NFC at NXP.
"Through extensive dialogue with all players in the NFC mobile ecosystem, we have created a solution which will help mobile operators, banks, retailers and service providers offer new services to diversify their business and add real value to the end user."
Issues around standards and security, and the sheer number of different players in the NFC ecosystem, have all been major stumbling blocks, but NXP hopes that its new chip, and the global standard it adheres to, will help address these issues.
Jonathan Collins, principal analyst for short range wireless at ABI Research, believes that standardised SIM-based NFC chipsets will provide a solid foundation for NFC adoption.
"They provide handset manufacturers, mobile operators, banks, transport operations and a host of other players with a platform for their NFC developments," he said. "Standardisation will also help other organisations align their businesses to support mobile contactless services, stimulating the market further."
The PN544 is fully compliant with all released NFC specifications on the Single Wire Protocol connection with the SIM and the host controller interface.
Steffen Steinmeier, director of marketing for NFC at NXP, explained that security is deeply embedded in the standard, with the SIM card acting as the secure container for all account and transaction details.
This design enhances security and allows users to easily migrate information between devices without having to worry about leaving sensitive information on old mobile phones.
Furthermore, the PN544 supports the three main architectures used to secure NFC transactions by including the Secure Element within the Universal Integrated Circuit Card, the SD card and the mobile handset to ensure that all internal and external communication is secure.
The chip is optimised for low power consumption, and is designed to work even if the mobile phone battery is low or off.
NXP's platform also includes a middleware-standardised software stack that enables developers to create applications that interface with the chip, helping to drive adoption of the technology by expanding its range of uses, the firm said.
Steinmeier believes that this global standardisation will be the catalyst for the rapid uptake of NFC technology, not just for contactless payments and transport but for ticketing, information, smart posters, store loyalty schemes and others.
The PN544 is currently being sampled by a number of major handset manufacturers, and mass availability is expected during the third quarter of 2009.
Nokia has already announced that commercially NFC-enabled handsets are expected at almost the same time.
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