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GSM Association issues new NFC handset requirements

The mobile network operators’ association has published new specifications which could give carriers a major advantage over competing mobile wallet providers but, the GSMA says, the changes are due to technical rather than commercial reasons.

GSMA

GSMA: Setting specs for NFC phones

The GSM Association has released a new version of its NFC Handset APIs & Requirements, used by phone manufacturers as a reference for what mobile network operators want to see in the devices they order.

The new document includes two potentially market-changing and controversial requirements for phones like the Galaxy Nexus that are capable of supporting more than one type of secure element and accompanying mobile wallet service:

  1. Only one secure element must be active at any one time
  2. NFC phones must ship with the NFC SIM, which would be issued and controlled by the carrier, set as the default active secure element

There are two reasons why these requirements might have been included in the new document:

  • Strategic commercial reasons: Mobile network operators could use the requirements to make it difficult for competing mobile wallet providers to gain a foothold in NFC phones. Consumers with NFC phones provided by their mobile network operator would have to actively choose to deactivate the mobile wallet service that came with their phone before they could add or activate an alternative service, such as Google Wallet.
  • Temporary technical reasons: Phones are on their way that will allow multiple secure elements to be active at the same time. But they aren’t available today and no standards have yet been set for how a phone containing two active mobile wallets would decide which to use for a particular operation.

NFC World asked the GSMA to explain the reasoning behind the new requirements and we have been told that the additions are for current technical reasons. “If more than one element is active at the same time then this would confuse the payment system,” the GSMA’s Claire Cranton told NFC World. “It is like presenting two £10 notes from two different sources to pay the same thing — which do you take?”

Section 1.1 of the handset requirements specification explains that the document is expected to evolve by “embracing new standards as and when they are approved by the relevant SDOs [standards organisations],” Cranton also pointed out.

“It is an evolving document,” she explained. “What’s in there right now is the current state of play. Once the standardisation organisations agree to a standard we’ll embrace it.”

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