OpenNFC – Game Changer

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 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?


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).

Apple and NFC

26 Jan 2011

Today’s Article in TechCrunch: Apple Aims to take NFC Mainstream

Previous Blogs

To summarize from my previous blogs (regarding Apple’s NFC moves)

  1. Not about payment but about advertising. The mobile device will be the top advertising platform for the next century. It provides a unique opportunity for convergence of the online and physical worlds (with the commensurate customer data). In the virtual world there is a “click” by which google can bill. There is also an “order” by which online retailers track channel advertising effectiveness. Apple’s moves in NFC represent the combination of the click and the order AT THE POS so that advertising effectiveness can be managed. It is ALSO a platform for many, many other services through which Apple SEEKs to control (and monitize).
  2. Apple’s desire to control the secure NFC element is not aligned with carriers (in the US) or internationally. How will Apple’s NFC integrate with the SIM? Will they follow the GSMA approach? Most interesting is whether Apple will support Single Wire Protocol /UICC model or will it have a unique architecture (SE NFC) with Apple acting as TSM and managing the secure applications outside of the SIM?
  3. Apple has 4 separate payment infrastructures today: Legacy Apple Store, iTunes, App Store and global treasury. They are indeed building a new payment infrastructure to support their wallet. Rumors are they are working with a big bank (?Chase?) as well as considering acquisition (ex. GlobalCollect). It seems that they are confident that they have capability to support US market rollout.
  4. TechCrunch is well off base in its assertion that the Debit interchange provides an opportunity for Apple. Actually, the reverse is true (in US Market). As discussed in the ISIS blog above, the key for NFC adoption is merchant POS infrastructure investment. ISIS is working with several large retailers to subsidize POS infrastructure. ISIS is doing much heavy lifting in its payment system incentives. Discover/Barclays relationship allows ISIS to build a merchant friendly value proposition and gives ISIS a unique ability to “control” the NFC/PCI certification process. Given that Apple is currently outside of ISIS, it must have another payment network to support it at the POS. Apple has typically partnered with Visa (given that MA has partnered with RIM this would make sense). In either case the merchant transaction costs for an Apple/NFC transaction will be higher (Visa controls the MDR) and Visa will control the NFC certification process. Apple may create a package of marketing incentives that will offset the merchant costs, but marketing effectiveness will be poor in the early stage (prior to NFC at POS). A classic chicken and egg problem.

Take Away for Investors/Start Ups

  • Apple will be a very, very hot platform for mobile applications.
  • Do not assume that there will be substantial payment volume in next 4 years
  • Assume there will be iAd “advertising views” but few mechanisms to track effectiveness until payment is captured
  • Important: even after payment is captured, the item detail will not be available to Apple.  Apple will be able to track that customer clicked on iAd, and visited store, but NOT what item was purchased.  There are a few companies addressing this… but not going to spill the beans here as I really like this space.
  • Apple’s ability to capture mass media spend will be driven more by Steve Jobs and the demographic of the iPhone user base.
  • Apple will have continue w/ interim CPC model on iAd until tracking through POS.  They will likely attempt to develop a couponing system, but bar codes on iPhones are viewed very negatively by retailers.
  • Expect to see many “four square” like start ups which try to leverage store visit check ins. But less than $2B in marketing spend shifting to platform until POS integration.
  • Look for Investment hypotheses that align to Apple core services (acquisition/exit)
  • Payment will take some time, DeviceFidelity spent almost 2 years in certification with Visa. In short term look to complimentary services. Examples
  1. NFC to Open Doors
  2. Physical advertising with NFC (NFC in a store display through coupon redemption)
  3.  NFC “Four Square” like Check In (ex shopkick)
  4.  POS Infrastructure (VivoTech, Verifone, Vending Machines, …)
  5. Retailer friendly applications that attempt to marry iAd data with retail POS data (think KSS Retail, DemandTec, ….)