Singapore's banks, telecoms networks and transit operators have given the go ahead for the creation of a national trusted third party designed to ensure full interoperability between the NFC services of all mobile operators and all service providers.
Singapore has become the first country to give the go ahead for the creation of a central Trusted Third Party (TTP) designed to deliver a fully inter-operable, multi-application national NFC ecosystem.
The creation of the national TTP is being managed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), a Singapore government agency that formed a roundtable group of banks, mobile network operators and transit companies in January 2008 with a view to putting together a national plan for the introduction of NFC.
Members include MobileOne, SingTel, StarHub, DBS, OCBC, UOB, BCS, EZ-Link, NETS, MasterCard and Visa plus the Ministry of Finance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Land Transport Authority.
Now they have agreed to collaborate on the establishment of an interoperable, commercial deployment of NFC in Singpore, based around the creation of a TTP tasked with ensuring the subscribers of any mobile network operator will have access to the full range of NFC services offered by any service provider.
One of the key reasons for going ahead with a trusted third party approach was the results of a consultancy study conducted for IDA by Consult Hyperion last year that concluded a fully interoperable NFC environment would generate a market size approximately eight times that of a non-interoperable environment.
"In the early stage of NFC adoption," says IDA, "the annual revenue from NFC mobile payments and advertising alone will amount to S$60 million for Singapore. With the maturity of NFC technology and services, the potential annual revenue will grow as more NFC services are deployed."
The TTP will "act as a neutral party delivering interoperability by providing a single point of contact for all banks, payment providers and telcos," says IDA. "This would help to eliminate the duplication of infrastructure and satisfy the trust requirements of all parties for payment services."
Once established, the TTP "will lay the foundation for the development of innovative NFC services in the near future," it explains.
"IDA has been playing an active role in identifying opportunities in leveraging new technologies and enabling platforms for Singapore to grow and innovate," says IDA CEO Ronnie Tay. "To realise its fullest potential, IDA sees interoperability as a key success factor for NFC and is pleased that all the NFC Roundtable members share the same conviction. Beyond transit and mobile payments, IDA will continue to work with the industry to support development of innovative services to create a rich user experience for consumers and businesses".
IDA will now act as the project leader for the establishment of Singapore's Trusted Third Party, which is expected to be run as a commercial entity, and will be responsible for making sure Singapore's system complies with the full range of existing contactless standards and infrastructures such as Visa payWave, MasterCard PayPass and Singapore's own Cepas transit standard.
The NFC Roundtable's member banks, operators and government agencies have been quick to show their support for the project — although it is clear that there are strong differences between each of the players in terms of how quickly they plan to move ahead:
Silvester Prakasam, fare system director at the Land Transport Authority, said:
"The Land Transport Authority, which takes an inclusive approach to public transport fare payment method, is open to working with the industry on new methods of payment such as NFC-enabled mobile phones as a service enhancement for commuters."
Karen Kooi, acting CEO at MobileOne:
"We believe interoperability is key to the commercial viability of NFC and we fully support IDA's vision of a truly inter-operable multi-application NFC environment for Singapore. Contactless technology paired with mobile handsets will open up rich possibilities for a wide variety of value-added services that mobile customers can use in their daily transactions."
Ying Lai Chang, vice president of consumer products at SingTel Mobile:
"NFC technology on mobile devices will bring about a brand new dimension to how customers will use their mobile devices. The benefits and convenience of NFC are evident based on the feedback received from our recent trial. We hope that an interoperable NFC infrastructure will encourage mobile device manufacturers to bring forward their production schedules of NFC compatible devices."
Chua Siew Ling, vice president of payment & transaction at StarHub:
"This initiative is an interesting development for the NFC industry in Singapore. We look forward to working with IDA and the various NFC partners to see how this collaboration might move forward."
Gordon Cooper, regional head of mobile payment (Asia Pacific) at Visa:
"As a company built on the premise that interoperable, network-based services offer the greatest value for consumers, merchants, and other stakeholders in the payments value chain, we welcome efforts by the IDA to facilitate the deployment of Trusted Third Party infrastructure in Singapore for NFC services."
Nicholas Lee, executive director at EZ-Link:
"We are confident, judging from the positive feedback following the largest NFC phone trial we conducted with StarHub, that NFC services will be positively received by mobile phone users through the collective efforts of the IDA and industry players like StarHub, phone manufacturers, ourselves and other retailers.
Like the ez-link card, the mobile phone is the other ubiquitous device Singaporeans carry. Hence we are excited to support the incorporation of the ezlink purse and our other applications in support of the NFC drive in Singapore."
Rahul Shingal, vice president of mobile & internet services at NETS:
"We believe this would usher in an ecosystem of interoperability and truly create a healthy environment for the usage of NFC. It would bring technology and business value to the banks and telcos, convenience to the consumers and wider payment choices for our merchant's customers and faster transaction time."
Patrick Chew, senior vice president of consumer financial services at OCBC Bank:
"Through OCBC Bank's Mobile Banking service, customers have enjoyed the convenience and innovation of banking on their mobile phones. With changing lifestyles, we believe more people will appreciate the benefits of NFC as a form of mobile payment."
Simon Song, senior vice president at DBS Cards & Unsecured Loans:
"NFC will be a trend of the near future as youths and young adults today become increasingly acquainted with contactless payment tools. They will be generating an increasing demand for technological and communication equipment that is multi-functional.
We recognise the tremendous opportunities NFC presents but also acknowledge the immediate challenges in terms of cost and system readiness. Nonetheless, the efforts of IDA and members of the roundtable to formulate an effective and realistic implementation plan is most encouraging."
Nelson Boon, head of business processes and administration in personal financial services at United Overseas Bank:
"We welcome the possibilities that another customer touchpoint provided by the NFC technology can bring and look forward to tapping the technology for our customers' benefit. As a bank offering quality products and services to our customers, we are open to consider it as an option for our customers if viable."
And David Chan, vice president of operations and advanced payment products for south east Asia at MasterCard Worldwide, said:
"MasterCard recognizes the enormous opportunity presented by mobile commerce, especially in a market such as Singapore where there is almost universal mobile phone ownership. People carry their mobile phones with them everywhere and the evolution of these devices into "mobile purses" which can be used to conduct transactions and access services is added-value for consumers.
MasterCard's PayPass contactless payment solution is at the forefront of this technology. PayPass offers consumers a convenient alternative to cash that allows for purchases to be completed quickly, securely and easily. Consumers no longer need to fumble for cash and coins. Users simply tap their PayPass-enabled phone, card, or device on the PayPass reader at participating merchants and they are on their way."