NFC Update – Zenius/InsideSecure

I met with the Inside and Zenius folks last week, and am impressed with both teams. Their mutual objective is to make development of NFC applications “easier”. Both have developed a chipset independent framework (common API layer) which creates a layer of abstraction between an NFC application (ex wallet) and the underlying hardware.

7 March 2011 

Previous Blog: OpenNFC 

I met with the Inside and Zenius folks last week, and am impressed with both teams. Their mutual objective is to make development of NFC applications “easier”. Both have developed a chipset independent framework (common API layer) which creates a layer of abstraction between an NFC application (ex wallet) and the underlying hardware. Both have also developed example applications that leverage this API layer (wallet, ticketing, loyalty, … ). My summary thoughts on the 2 teams are I like them both. Inside has expertise from hardware through software delivery. Zenius’ expertise extends from POS to Handset across multiple hardware architectures.

Comparison

Zenius

  • NFC API framework
  • Chipset independent (proven)
  • Vendor independent
  • Handset Applications
  • POS Applications
  • MNO experience

Inside

  • NFC API Framework
  • Marketed as Chipset independent (no proven)
  • Handset NFC Applications (5 of them)
  • Discourages Multi SE environment
  • Discourages Application Development (Use on of its 5 Applications)

What I struggled with was Inside’s insistence that there should only be 5 NFC applications. In other words, its NFC middleware layer was only for its own internal use to ensure that its applications work across all (competitor) NFC chipsets. The implication is that there will only be 5 NFC applications… for eternity. For example, ISIS selected the C-SAM wallet that sits on top of a custom built NFC stack.  In the Inside model, ISIS would need to jettison both CSAM and its custom middleware.  (Yeah, I had the same reaction).

Zenius has a much more mature model, driven from their legacy working within Verifone and VivoTech. The Zenius guys had to make their applications work across multiple hardware solutions, and hence developed a framework that is now productized. They have also developed 5 standard application, that are “reference implementations” of their APIs, you can use them in a white label fashion, customize them.. or take them apart to see how they leveraged the API layer. This is a better approach hands down.

Inside’s approach seems a little unrealistic, and could be perceived as a “land grab”.  What do I like about Inside’s OpenNFC? The middleware and their end-end experience. In the end they are driven by chipset volume.. my guess is that they would be willing to give away OpenNFC if it would drive their chip sales. Problem is that giving it away may only commoditize their core product, hence they would be tempted to ensure that their product “works best” with OpenNFC. This is one reason that middleware vendors (MQ, Tibco, WebMethods, ..etc) developed separate from software companies.

Given that developing native NFC applications is difficult, the experience largely sits within companies like: Inside, NXP, Verifone, VivoTech, Device Fidelity, Tyfone.. .  People within these organizations all know each other.. after all it is a very small community. I asked them how many of their colleagues are at Apple. The answer across the board is that they don’t know of anyone.  This tells me that Apple is probably more than a few months away from launching an NFC wallet, or that they are dependent on a vendor (?Gemalto) for all development.

Since ISIS has already completed development of its own NFC wallet (not on iPhone), what are Apple’s plans?  I’m told that Apple wants a wallet tied to their 200M Apple accounts, this could be mere speculation, but it seems logical. I’m also told that Apple has their own NFC wallet. If Apple does indeed have an NFC application, it is something they have procured (licensed and modified) from Gemalto.  This is not a bad thing, particularly if Apple is more focused on hardware architecture, and plans for managing secure elements (SEs). The first wallet will undergo significant testing, through a new hardware and software stack. They must have something they control (not ISIS) and that is tested (Gemalto) to reduce complexity. Apple will likely need additional applications, but they must start somewhere.

All of this just spells further trouble for ISIS, who was hoping to focus more on POS issues now that they have a working wallet application. If RIM and Apple are successful in keeping control of the NFC wallet, ISIS can only hope to be another “card” in the wallet… one that speaks Discover ZIP initially. Quite a different value proposition than what they started with 6 months ago.  

For Apple, this allows them to strike a strategic relationship with a card issuer (like Chase) who will likely invest in both marketing and POS infrastructure. I’m sure that Apple’s plan is to also integrate iAd… although it can’t possibly make it for 2011 (my guess).

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).