Rumours that the world's largest telecoms operator is to introduce a mobile contactless payments and ticketing system using a non-NFC standard technology have been confirmed with the news that three million RF SIMs are now in production.
China Mobile has placed an order for three million RF SIMs, expected to be used initially by visitors to the Shanghai World Expo. The RF SIMs are compatible with most mobile phones and visitors will be able to simply replace their existing SIM with a new RF SIM in order to use their phone to make mobile contactless payments.
The first RF SIMs are expected to be used at the showcase event, which opens in May and is expecting 70m visitors over its six month run, to store customers' entry tickets and, possibly, for the purchase of public transport tickets to the event and to make payments at on-site vendors.
RF SIM is a competing technology to NFC which carries both a significant advantage and a significant disadvantage. Because it operates at a higher frequency than NFC it is incompatible with existing contactless ticketing systems such as FeliCa and Mifare and with contactless payments systems such as Visa's PayWave and MasterCard's PayPass.
But the higher frequency used in RF SIM technology also means that a much smaller antenna can be used, enabling both the payments/ticketing chip and the RF antenna to be produced in a single package that fits within a mobile phone's standard SIM slot.
In the west, NFC's compatibility with existing payments and ticketing infrastructures is seen as a key advantage. For China Mobile, however, the advantage of being able to cost-effectively upgrade its 470 million subscribers' mobiles is seen as outweighing the cost of upgrading ticketing equipment to accept the new RF SIM technology.
And, for the Shanghai World Expo in particular, RF SIM also has the added advantage of being a home grown Chinese technology. The three million RF SIMs on order are being manufactured for China Mobile by Jiangsu Changjiang Electronics Technology (JCET), a leading Chinese semiconductor packaging subcontractor. Production began in November 2009 and is expected to be complete by the end of March.