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Visa is testing Micro SD NFC chips with French bank

June 28, 2011

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Visa International said earlier this morning that it will soon be testing Micro SD-based NFC (near field communications) chips in France, working with Groupe BPCE, a bank based in Nice, to place payments into the pockets of businesses, while bypassing wireless operators.

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The new technology comes from Device Fidelity, which has long pioneered the use of NFC secure elements. The trial will use iPhone handsets containing the NFC radio and antenna, as well as the Micro-SD slot for the secure element. The Samsung Galaxy S and two BlackBerrys will also be used in the trials, Visa said.

Things are moving very fast in the NFC segment of the wireless industry. Yesterday, four Danish wireless operators have joined together in creating a standard NFC (near field communications) platform, and say that it is the imminent threat from Google and a few others that has motivated them to do so.

The four mobile service operators are Telenor, TDC, TeliaSonera and Three. The new NFC standard is a SIM-hosted platform for NFC apps, much like the one announced in the U.K. last week and in the U.S. last November called ISIS. The new ISIS implementation gained a lot of traction and was growing rapidly in popularity, but was abruptly cancelled in May.

Device Fidelity's Micro SD solution features a secure element and NFC radio into the semiconductor, though all the devices in the testing program need an additional antenna to get the signal out of the device that is contained in the iPhone casing. But the overall lack of NFC devices at this early point in the development cycle makes such initial preparation necessary, said Visa.

Device Fidelity and Visa, have a vested interest in promoting Micro-SD technology as the ideal location for the secure element, which will otherwise rest in the SIM (controlled by the network operator) or the mobile handset (controlled by the manufacturer).

As far as Visa is concerned, the secure element goes on a Micro SD chip supplied by the credit card giant, and when the customer changes his wireless network provider or his mobile handset, the Micro-SD card comes with it.

This means proving to the mobile industry and its millions of subscribers that NFC technology does work, and that this is all the motivation behind the testing which follow previous months of testing in the U.S. both in 2010 and so far this year.

However, overall testing of NFC / MicroSD technology in Australia has not been so successful so far. ANZ Bank has put on hold its own testing with Visa. According to the bank, customers wanted proximity payments, but not using MicroSD chips, which is sad since it's the additional case or antenna issue that they probably didn't like, rather than the cards themselves.

Such cases and antennas are just for testing purposes, and are supposed to be just temporary. Once mobile handsets have built-in support for NFC technology, then Device Fidelity plans to reduce the physical size ot its chips to contain just the secure element of the device.

In a perfect world, this would most likely come with support from the operating system, though that is not strictly necessary depending if it's Android or iOS. But it does need devices that have both a Micro SD slot and an NFC capability.

Source: Visa International.

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