A real buzz surrounds the deployment of NFC right now, and there is a feeling that those set to benefit most currently sit within the business and public sector.
Nokia recently caused a stir when it confirmed it would not be going ahead with the much talked about 6216 Classic NFC phone, its first based on the single wire protocol (SWP). According to the Fins, the consumer experience on the device, which enables NFC functionality to be delivered via a user’s SIM rather than via an embedded secure element, wasn’t quite up to scratch.
While Nokia reaffirmed its interest in NFC, the move helped place the spotlight back on those enterprises already using the technology in a narrower business context. It is here where many believe we will see things happening in the short term, as those involved bid to take the technology to the masses.
Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, believes that using the technology in ‘task-based’ worker scenarios where it is a way of verifying contact between one thing and another is a good place to start moving towards mass deployment.
In this sense, it could be security guards patrolling NFC-enabled fences, with the device carried beeping to disclose where they are and that the job is getting done, or railway workers who deal with electrified lines and need to know when they are off, he says.
‘One strength when using this as an application for NFC, is that it hasn’t got the vulnerability that certain NFC applications fall down at, which is that it’s only going to work if everyone has one,’ he adds.
Bamforth explains that one of the challenges that NFC-enabled phones face is not the fact that the technology is hard to do, but more the difficulty in getting the right application for the right amount of devices that might be out there.
‘Having a narrowly targeted and focused application like a task-based worker, where they need to verify being near something or prove that they’ve touched something, isn’t a very sexy application, as it’s not addressing tens of thousands of devices, yet it’s delivering recognisable value to businesses by way of authentication and verification,’ he says.
Bamforth believes that it’s just a matter of finding the right applications for NFC.
‘It’s the old chasm crossing problem,’ he says. ‘When you’re trying to leap across the chasm with any type of technology adoption you either need some narrowly focused and targeted solutions where there is some benefit or you have to do something that’s vast. The trouble with the latter is that there are so many different parties with hidden agendas that it becomes difficult.’
Claire Maslen, O2’s head of NFC, says that while the technology for NFC is relatively easy, the building blocks for the ecosystem require thought and investment.
‘I think there is a tendency to look for one proposition to support the build out of the entire capability. There are certain things we need – handsets, SIMs, user interfaces, platforms, servers and TSM services,’ she explains. ‘The investment is significant and you need to make that investment whether you launch with one proposition or whether you have a full portfolio of propositions.
This is an important point Maslen is keen to stress. ‘If we think about the corporate applications – access control, time and attendance, asset tracking – it’s generally easier because it’s a solution sale and O2 would, working with technology partners, be able to provide an “out of the box” solution,’ she says.
‘I believe operational efficiencies, increasing productivity etc for our corporate accounts, is enough to warrant O2 investigating more opportunities in this space. That will help give confidence to the handset vendors that we are committed to NFC and should help drive scale in their roadmaps,’ she adds.
Terran Churcher, MD of mobile data specialist Codegate, says it’s the Barclaycard meets the greengrocer and the convergence of contactless smart card and wireless computer with internet scenario.
‘Financial transactions, physical access, individual target marketing and location specific internet look-up applications come to mind, but there are countless areas where this technology could be used,’ he says.
With RFID having been slow off the starting blocks, Churcher wonders whether we’ve worked out exactly what the best use for NFC is yet.
‘What is the “killer app” for NFC?’ he says. ‘The jury is still out.’
Maslen says that four main cases have been interesting for the NFC team at O2 – access control, closed loop payments for corporate campus, asset tracking and finally, time and attendance.
‘We’ve been trialling in healthcare and station environments, but these could be extended to most sectors,’ she adds.
Mark Selby, VP industry collaboration at Nokia, concurs that identifying the right applications in the various territories and environments is important.
‘Some are primarily offered in a single or limited number of countries and we are now seeing some move across national borders,’ he says.
He points to public services and private enterprises as those being rolled out right now.
‘NFC is being used to improve the efficiency of many mobile workforces,’ he adds. ‘A great example is residential care – combining scheduling, map routing, patient reporting and allowing healthcare professionals to focus on their core skills rather than time-consuming administration.’
Churcher agrees, adding cleaners, teachers and childminders to the list of people who could be provided with devices to record arrival on-site, duration of visit, travelling time between calls and governance confirmation.
‘This would provide an inexpensive way of proving who was where, when, for how long and in charge during the working day, enabling stakeholders to prove adherence to service level agreements,’ he adds.
With NFC showing real promise in a variety of scenarios, it seems only natural that those within business should be first to adopt and become trailblazers for the technology. After all, successful deployment of relevant business solutions with a narrowed focus should drive mass-market appeal in other areas and raise consumer interest.