OpenNFC – Game Changer

OpenNFC has a tremendous impact on MNO NFC business models. MNOs invested tremendous effort in developing NFC, now they are having their legs taken out from under them by a contactless vendor and the handset manufacturers. For ISIS to succeed they must run much faster and expand scope from a narrow payment pilot (over next 18 months) to building a platform that can compete AND interoperate against Android

24 February 2011

Monday I wrote about Apple’s “NFC Twist” and how a multi SE environment impacted MNO’s NFC business case. From Monday (I hate to quote myself.. but it keeps from following the link)

The champion of Multi SE architecture is Inside Contactless (OpenNFC).. a very very smart “Judo” move that leverages NXP’s substantial momentum (in integrated NFC/controller/radio) against itself. Inside’s perspective is that there is no reason for the ISO 14443 radio to ONLY be controlled via NFC (treat it like a camera). Inside’s OpenNFC provides for “easily adaptable hardware abstraction software layer, which accounts for a very small percentage of the total stack code, meaning that the Open NFC software stack can be easily leveraged for different NFC chip hardwalet multiple applications and services access it”. Handset manufactures love this model.. MNOs hate it. As I stated previously, closed systems must develop prior to open systems as investment can only be made where margins and services can be controlled. OpenNFC changes the investment dynamics for MNOs, and provides new incentives for Google/Apple/Microsoft, … to transition their closed systems into NFC platforms.

For Banks, Handset Manufacturer and Startups…

I cannot understate the importance of this approach.  My guess is that Apple, Motorola and RIM are all planning to pursue “OpenNFC” .  Multiple applications can now leverage the 14443 radio IN ADDITION TO the MNO controlled (SWP/SE) environment. Applications can then ride “over the top” independent of carrier controlled (TSM Managed) OTA provisioning.

In business terms, what does this mean? ISIS was founded under the assumption that it controlled the radio and all applications accessing it under NFCs  secure element (SE)  single wire protocol (SWP). Nothing could use the radio unless the ISIS TSM (Gemalto) provisioned it. Visa, Mastercard, Amex were all looking at a future where the BEST they could do was exist as a sticker on the back of the phone. In the OpenNFC model, the radio can be accessed directly through the handset operating system (assuming the OS integrates to the Inside OpenNFC controller).  This provides the ability for applications on Android and iPhone to access the radio. In this model, Mastercard DOES have the ability to get PayPass into the phone. My guess is that one driver of MasterCard’s hiring of Mung-Ki Woo from Orange was his unique perspective on how to make PayPass work within this InsideContactless model.

For ISIS? This is a tremendous impact to their business model. Perhaps something they cannot recover from. MNOs invested tremendous effort in developing NFC, now they are having their legs taken out from under them by a contactless vendor and the handset manufacturers. For ISIS to succeed they must run much faster and expand scope from a narrow payment pilot (over next 18 months) to building a platform that can compete AND interoperate against Android. Yeah.. that big. Their advantage is in control, security and provisioning. Unfortunately, because they have focused on the “control” aspect as the centerpiece of their  business model, they have developed no alliances. In this, ISIS may well follow the failure of Canada’s Enstream. A group that got all of the technology right but failed to develop a sustainable business model.

Start-Ups

Start building to OPEN NFC. Game IS ON. Assume that Android and iPhone will let you access the radio…. For a fee.

For Consumers

CHAOS. What do you do when 5 applications all want to submit your payment.. .or read an RFID.. which one do you use?  For a view on the mess this will cause, see the Stolpan whitepaper

I believe this approach benefits Apple much more than Google. Apple’s platform “control” and QA testing will be essential to getting this off the ground. My guess is that Apple will have only ONE NFC payment option.. APPLE PAYMENTS. Perhaps a gatekeeper model where multiple cards can be store but Apple collects a fee.

Although Apple has an advantage in control. Google has the opportunity to deliver a much better value proposition to consumers, businesses and application developers. I’ll stick by my Axiom that new networks must start as closed systems delivering value to at least 2 parties. But can Apple compete with its Gosplan (USSR State Planning) like controls against open Android?

Background

NFC Background for non-techies reading the blog, there have been many, many global pilots of NFC.. but no production rollouts. From my previous blog

What is NFC? Technically it operates on the same ISO/IEC 14443 (18092) protocol as both RFID and MiFare so how is it different? I’m not going to get into the depth of the technology (see Wikipedia), but the biggest driver was  GSMA/NFC Forum’s technical definition (UICC/SWP) that ENABLED CARRIERS to control the smart card (NFC element). This in turn enabled carriers to create a business model through which they could justify investment (See NFC Forum White Paper).

iPhone 5 – NFC “Twist” (OpenNFC)

Last week Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities spoke of Apple’s plans for NFC with a unique twist. So what is the “twist? My guess is that the TWIST relates to Apple’s plan to support multiple Secure Elements (ie, one embedded, another in UICC). This would allow Apple to “support” MNOs driven initiatives and also create a closed system (described in many patents below).

Update Mar 14

No NFC for iPhone 5. Too many architecture considerations.. (below). So while their patents clearly indicate it is in their plans.. they have not been able to coordinate all of the design into their iPhone 5 program (from hardware through software and apps).

See article from UK’s Independent

Update Mar 3

Multiple SEs are too complicated for Apple. Think they actually want to control everything and have one wallet with multiple cards. So much for ISIS having a TSM. Verizon/AT&T must be pushing back.. why subsidize the iPhone and let Apple control it? My guess is that JPM and Visa are also Apple launch partners (which further diminishes ISIS value prop). The downside of controlling everything.. is that YOUR TEAM becomes a throttle to success.

Feb 21 2011 (Updated)

Apple is a tremendous company, beyond its design and technical prowess the factor that most impresses me is its unique ability to maintain confidential information. How can such amazing innovation come out of a company that seems to operate as a mix between the CIA and the Hotel California (checkout any time you like… but you can never leave…)?

Last week Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities spoke of Apple’s plans for NFC with a unique twist. So what is the “twist? My guess is that the TWIST relates to Apple’s plan to support multiple Secure Elements (ie, one embedded,  another in UICC).  This would allow Apple to “support” MNOs driven initiatives and also create a closed system (described in many patents below).

For background on multi SEs see GSMA whitepaper

The GSMA NFC project recommends the UICC as the most appropriate secure element (SE) in mobile phones. It is foreseen that other secure elements (removable and non removable) may be implemented in mobile phones. As a consequence, applications may be hosted in secure elements other than the UICC. The selection of the secure element hosting the targeted application shall be solved. This case only applies in card emulation mode.

Most NFC pilots have launched with a single application in a simplified environment. The long term future of what NFC really looks like is very, very hazy. Many potential complexities arise, as best described in the Stolpan whitepaper (a EU consortium now largely defunct, an irony in its own right). Apple (or ANY MNO) certainly can’t build a business on this complexity. A multi SE architecture could also provide Apple with a mechanism to address anti-trust challenges on platform fees and openness/control (Washington Post – Apple’s Subscription Model Sparks Antitrust Concerns).  Apple would compete on quality of service and integration, but allow other applications to also “exist” in a separate environment with a different “trust”.

The champion of Multi SE architecture is Inside Contactless (OpenNFC).. a very very smart “Judo” move that leverages NXP’s substantial momentum (in integrated NFC/controller/radio) against itself. Inside’s perspective is that there is no reason for the ISO 14443 radio to ONLY be controlled via NFC (treat it like a camera). Inside’s OpenNFC provides for “easily adaptable hardware abstraction software layer, which accounts for a very small percentage of the total stack code, meaning that the Open NFC software stack can be easily leveraged for different NFC chip hardwalet multiple applications and services access it”. Handset manufactures love this model.. MNOs hate it. As I stated previously, closed systems must develop prior to open systems as investment can only be made where margins and services can be controlled. OpenNFC changes the investment dynamics for MNOs, and provides new incentives for Google/Apple/Microsoft, … to transition their closed systems into NFC platforms.

Along these lines (Apple AppStore into NFC Platform), I need to correct the assertion I made in my previous blog Apple and NFC.  In it I stated that NFC “control” for Apple was about advertising control (not payment revenue).  What if Apple evolves all of its current applications into a “trusted” (in NFC context) environment, with secure storage and access restrictions (GPS, Alerts, phone, camera, NFC element, payment, advertising, enforced customer anonymity, …)? Apple could also enable this new architecture to support new secure areas for the Mobile operator (or other TSM) to provision secure services, or even an “open area” where the customer can run anything they want.  In this multiple secure element example, Apple would seek to control (and monetize) access to device services and seek to INCENT all providers to run within the APPLE SECURE ENVIRONMENT.. but would provide an alternative (that it does not manage, support or control).

If this is indeed Apple’s plan I will have to update my prognostication on the death of mobile apps (in favor of HTML 5). Particularly for Apps that leverage any of the Apple services I list above. This scenario is consistent with Apple’s  Patent US10200082444 PORTABLE POINT OF PURCHASE USER INTERFACES

[0088] Close range communication may occur through the NFC interface 60. The near field communication (NFC) interface 60 may operate in conjunction with the NFC device 44 to allow for close range communication. The NFC interface 60 may exist as a separate component, may be integrated into another chipset, or may be integrated with the NFC device 44, for example, as part of a system on a chip (SoC). The NFC interface 60 may include one or more protocols, such as the Near Field Communication Interface and Protocols (NFCIP- 1) for communicating with another NFC enabled device. The protocols may be used to adapt the communication speed and to designate one of the connected devices as the initiator device that controls the near field communication. In certain embodiments, the NFC interface 60 may be used to receive information, such as the service set identifier (SSID), channel, and encryption key, used to connect through another communication interface 58, 64, 66, or 68.

[092] … The security features 74 may be particularly useful when transmitting payment information, such as credit card information or bank account information. The security features 74 also may include a secure storage area that may have restricted access. For example, a pin or other verification may need to be provided to access the secure storage area. In certain embodiments, some or all of the preferences 72 may be stored within the secure storage area. Further, security information, such as an authentication key, for communicating with a retail server may be stored within the secure storage area. In certain embodiments, the secure storage area may include a microcontroller embedded within the electronic device 10.

There are 4 market forces at work which may drive a multi-SE approach

  • Protect App Store/iTunes Model
  • Support MNO Models
  • Anti-Trust Concerns
  • Control Platform

Your feedback is welcome

– Tom

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