Major mobile operators close in on NFC

Summary:The companies behind T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2 have pledged that, by 2012, they will introduce services for near-field communications, the technology that powers contactless payments

The largest mobile operators in the UK and abroad have all agreed to provide services using near-field communications, the technology that powers smart cards and contactless bank cards.

NFC-enabled mobile phone

The largest mobile operators in the UK and abroad have backed plans to offer NFC technology for activities such as mobile payments. Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/

On Monday, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange and Telefonica issued a joint statement along with other operators, saying they intended to launch commercial near-field communication (NFC) services for handsets in select markets by 2012. The mobile companies operate the T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2 brands in the UK, respectively.

"NFC is perhaps best known for its role in enabling mobile payments, but its applications go far beyond that," said Franco Bernabe, the chairman of international operator body the GSM Association (GSMA), in the statement. "NFC represents an important innovation opportunity and will facilitate a wide range of interesting services and applications for consumers, such as mobile ticketing, mobile couponing, the exchange of information and content, control access to cars, homes, hotels, offices, car parks and much more."

NFC has been keenly discussed and trialled in the mobile industry for years. In 2008, the GSMA pushed for manufacturers to build the technology into handsets from mid-2009. On Monday, the GSMA would not comment on why such a rollout is now around two years late.

NFC is perhaps best known for its role in enabling mobile payments, but its applications go far beyond that.

– Franco Bernabe, GSMA

The technology only began to appear in mainstream handsets in January, with the launch of the NFC-equipped Google Nexus S. Research In Motion is set to use NFC in its upcoming BlackBerrys, Apple is rumoured to be planning the same for the next iPhone and iPad, and HP uses NFC for the tap-to-share functionality in its latest WebOS devices.

Based on RFID technology, NFC allows a chip and reader to communicate over very short distances. As NFC chips do not require power, they can be used in phones even when the handset's battery is dead. This means a user can still use the phone as a ticket on public transport, for example.

Apart from the operators with a presence in the UK, other signatories to the statement include America Movil, Axiata Group Berhad, Bharti, China Unicom, GKT Corporation, MTS, Qtel Group, Softbank Mobile, Telecom India, Telekom Austria Group and Telenor.

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Topics: Mobility, Smartphones


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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