After the ‘ash cloud’ last year, Monaco welcomed the Near Field Communications (NFC) community with open arms and a smile for this year’s WIMA. Indeed, the weather was picture-perfect for an event that promised to deliver much more than the last.
Held at the Grimaldi Forum, WIMA was dedicated to NFC technology and featured the latest applications, products and services to hit the space on its exhibition floor, while a packed conference programme and series of workshops and technical sessions enabled delegates to get a better idea of where various aspects of the market are going from a business and technical standpoint.
If the word on the street is to be believed then this may finally be the year that NFC earns its stripes after several years of hype. At the event, all manner of speakers were eulogising the technology and its merits in the realms of everything from healthcare and tagging to payment and social networking – even Angry Birds got
So, why has there been a delay? At the event, Mark Selby, VP for Industry Collaborations at Nokia, told those gathered that they’d all been a little preoccupied with doing the wrong thing for some time.
‘In the past, people have been looking at NFC as something you can do all manner of things with. Then some people began focusing exclusively on secure elements on devices. This caused a big delay in products coming to market,’ he said.
Last year, Nokia went back and reviewed all of the data from its pilots and studies it had done with partners. The result of this and conversations with leading analysts led the company to conclude that collectively many had been looking at the wrong things.This is why the company is busy promoting ‘open NFC’.
‘What we’re saying is there’s “open” and “secure”,’ explained Selby. ‘Secure means there’s a secure element on the device. However, open NFC apps can be very secure but they don’t need a secure element on the device.’
Selby claims that many enterprises have felt constrained by having to work with network operators that want to put secure element models in place.
‘The challenge is that a lot of people within the NFC industry have got themselves locked into the “Holy Grail” of taking a percentage of all financial transactions,’ he added. ‘It is a complex structure that they’re getting into and they are missing the greater market.’
In fact, Nokia estimates that open applications will account for 68% of the income generated from NFC in 2013, with the secure ones making up the remaining 32%.
‘The enterprise options are enormous,’ said Selby.
‘The challenge is how do those smaller developers bring those solutions to the enterprise environment? To date it’s been a challenge for many to work with the SME or the corporate sales forces within the mobile operators.’
At WIMA plenty was going on though. Proxama announced it would be collaborating with Nokia on developing NFC applications for its new range of smartphones. In this instance, its Tag Center solution will enable users to get instant, media rich experiences from NFC data tags on posters, product packaging and point-of-sale displays.
Neil Gamer, founder and CEO of Proxama thinks the technology will help breathe life into things like traditional media channels that have been on the wane.
‘It also offers advertisers something of a “Holy Grail”, and because such channels are instantly more measurable, advertisers will have the ability to monitor and measure behaviour prompted by NFC interactions,’ he said.
Think&Go was another company showcasing its solution for the retail space and seeing a bright future of cross-selling, up-selling and consumer behaviour tracking through the technology. With its opt-in consumer tracking, for instance, retailers will always get real-time content at every tag read.
WIMA really showed that the possibilities for NFC appear endless. Orange Business Services was another with a quite different take on the technology with its Valeo NFC Access System. This has been developed for auto manufacturers who want customers to enable a vehicle to be shared between several drivers. In this case, the technology works by temporarily transferring an ignition key by mobile phone to make things like online reservation more simple and cost-effective.
Just imagine the benefits that this might bring to the enterprise when combined with tracking and route delivery for a convoy carrying expensive equipment or perhaps when deployed in the security van collection arena.
NFC pioneer Jeff Miles, director of Mobile Transactions Worldwide at NXP, has been here from the beginning, working on the technology as far back as 2002.
Although he feels NFC has not been a simple technology to bring to market, he told Wireless that we were now starting to see enough critical infrastructure to take a look at it seriously, with smartphones the biggest reason for this.
‘NFC gives you two things,’ he said. ‘As a consumer it makes things much easier, it’s much quicker and gives you authentication. Then there’s devices like the Nexus from Google, which probably does many of the same things as much more expensive handheld readers and that’s an attractive proposition for everyone,’ he added.
And if there was one message Miles made clear at WIMA, it was for those involved to focus on what they can do first.
‘There are a lot of applications that can be built. Don’t keep trying to wait for the perfect solution and don’t attack the most complex thing,’ he said. ‘Use the stuff that’s already out there. Remember what you’re good at and what you’re not and don’t be afraid to jump into a part of the business that doesn’t exist today.’