NFC Enabled Apple Pay

September 9th was an exciting day for NFC enthusiasts and evangelists. Apple announced that iPhone6 would offer Apple Pay, a mobile payment functionality based on NFC (Near Field Communication). The NFC community praised the announcement with relief, “It’s about time.”

The NFC community had hoped that Apple would have adopted NFC for iPhone 5s/5c in 2013. Apple endorsed BLE(Bluetooth Low Energy) instead while continuing to obtain NFC patents. Without Apple’s adoption, NFC has been moving slowly due to the lack of consumer technology awareness. Apple has influenced consumer behavior with an appealing experience and an innovative implementation.  I expect that Apple Pay would help consumers to become familiar with NFC.

Before the announcement, on September 8th, the NFC community had the following questions:

  • Will iPhone6 be NFC-enabled? If it is, what NFC mode will be offered for public use?
  • What type of mobile payment model will be deployed?
  • Will an app development framework be offered?
  • What will be the user experience?

Now, a day after the excitement, the NFC community has more questions:

  • Is iPhone6 capable of reading NFC tags?
  • Can the Softcard (formally ISIS) mobile wallet be used with the iPhone6? What’s the impact to the Softcard?
  • Will the NFC feature be configured on/off in the Setting? What is the default setting?
  • What is the Apple Pay infrastructure?

What are other questions/thoughts in you mind?


ISIS Mobile Wallet / Google Wallet / iPhone Mobile Payment

Yesterday when I was checking out at the Wholefood Market, I was delightfully surprised by their new NFC-enabled reader. At the top of the screen, it said “Swipe/Tap Your Card/Phone”. According to the excited cashier, I was the first one using my phone to pay.

ISIS Mobile Wallet has been available since November 2013. Jamba Juice was chosen as the main promotion partner; a free drink for payment made with ISIS. Jamba Juice was committed to give away one million drinks. For a while, I was having Jamba Juice every day. What a treat!

James D. White, chairman, president and CEO of Jamba Inc., in a company press release, said “Facilitating 1 million transactions through the mobile wallet over the last seven months confirms that the era mobile commerce has arrived. I am proud that Jamba has been able to serve as a leader in the space”.

I appreciate their leadership for this emerging technology.

There are many discussions about Apple’s potential mobile payment and the possibility of an NFC-enabled iPhone 6. I think it might be helpful to describe two approaches to implement an NFC mobile payment. If you want more technical information, please check out the details in this Android page.

I. SIM based Secure Element (SE):

In order to be able to use ISIS mobile payment, you need to get an ISIS SIM card from your service provider. The SIM card includes a Secure Element (SE) that contains your credentials.

When an NFC Reader is tapped by an NFC device, the NFC Controller routes traffic to the SE for authentication.

This approach is very secure because it is difficult to hack the SIM card.

II. Hosted Card Emulation (HCE):

When you use Google Wallet, you don’t need a specific mobile payment SIM. Google wallet uses HCE.

The NFC card is emulated using HCE. When an NFC Reader is tapped by a device, the data is routed to the host CPU. This approach uses the credentials that are stored in a remote server for authentication.

HCE is considered to be a threat to the SIM-based SE and is adopted in various NFC secure applications.

Now the questions is “When iPhone adopts NFC, which mobile payment approach will it choose?

Source of pictures: developer.andriod.com

NFC HCE and Payment Trends

On April 17th, David Marcus, President at PayPal said, “I’ve been looking at three technologies that might truly change the retail experience as we know it.”

One of the technologies David is looking at is NFC HCE (Host Card Emulation). It is an alternative way of using SE (Secure Element) to implement security mechanisms for NFC technology. In my previous blog, I explained why Google has chosen HCE. David Marcus said, “I’m moving from being a massive skeptic of NFC, to being cautiously optimistic on NFC HCE take-up in very specific shopping use cases.”

He envisions two scenarios that would popularize NFC. One is the credit card EMV movement, which would lead to more NFC-enabled terminals at points of sale, and the other is Visa embracing the HCE approach.

I understand David’s point coming from the payment industry leader he is. At the same time, I believe that NFC will take off regardless of payment trends. From my personal experience advocating NFC to business owners, the technology is received with excitement. Entrepreneurs are inspired by the possibilities presented through the integration of NFC tags and chips for enhancing and marketing their products and services. They also wonder why they haven’t heard about the technology sooner.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon spent a huge amount of money on ISIS mobile payment implementation based on NFC, yet they are not promoting the technology proactively or effectively. Not many subscribers know about NFC or ISIS.  What is the missing link?



ISIS Mobile Wallet experience with an NFC enabled phone

This is a follow up blog about my exploration on the use of the ISIS Mobile Wallet. I needed to return my iPhone ISIS case to the AT&T store since it didn’t work well. I decided to continue my hands on ISIS experience and picked up an Android phone.  I chose the HTC One.

Here is what I have performed:

  1. Download the ISIS mobile app:

I downloaded the ISIS mobile app from Google Play Store and attempted to sign on to the ISIS mobile wallet. I had forgotten both my password and the answer to my security question. My ISIS account was locked after a few attempts to sign in. With such a security mechanism in place, I felt more comfortable as a mobile wallet user. I called AT&T customer support and they reset the ISIS password for me in a very efficient manner.

  1. Set up of the ISIS Mobile Wallet:

To my surprise, my ISIS wallet was empty and I was asked to add all cards into it.

This is the message I received:

“This is an important service alert from Isis.

Your Isis Mobile Wallet was transferred to a new phone. Any existing installations of your Isis Mobile Wallet will be disabled while you complete the reinstallation process on your new phone.

As part of this process, you may be required to re-activate Payment Cards by your issuers.”

OK, I get it. When I bought a new wallet, I would need to move all of my cards to my new wallet. Since this is a digital world, I expect more from my digital wallet. A better experience would have been for all the cards associated with my wallet being moved to a new phone automatically. Are these cards not associated with my ISIS wallet in the data base? Why do I have to key in all of the information again?

I was also notified that my iPhone wallet was not available. It seems that ISIS only allows one active wallet and each time the wallet needs to be re-associated with all of the cards.

  1. Get Jamba Juice:

The experience at the Jamba Juice store was good. This is the store that was having trouble receiving ISIS wallet from the iPhone case. It received ISIS from HTC One instantly. I am happy about the experience.

  1. Read NFC tag:

I used the HTC One to scan an NFC tag on my book and it didn’t ask for my permission; “do you want to accept the NFC connection?” as my Galaxy III did. Instead, it scanned the URL in the NFC tag and went to my author’s page at Amazon. It’s good to see the read/write mode working and it’s not good to see that there is no security provided. In this case, when my phone is approaching any NFC tag, it will read it and put the phone in danger of a virus attack.

Overall, it’s a better experience to use an NFC enabled phone to perform ISIS Mobile Wallet activities than using an NFC embedded iPhone case. Stay tuned for more exploration.


Frustration over my ISIS enabled iPhone

I am getting a bit tired with my ISIS enabled iPhone. The case added weight to my iPhone. Most of the ISIS transactions didn’t work well. The only good thing is that I am getting free drinks from Jamba Juice until the end of March. Other than card emulation mode, none of the other NFC modes work. I can’t tap an NFC tag or an NFC enabled phone with the case to get the full benefits of NFC.  I think I might switch to an Android phone. Most of the Android smartphones are NFC enabled.

Looking back at the history of NFC’s development, I find the situation kind of ironic.  We had an NFC enthusiast, Google, demonstrate NFC card emulation mode’s value by implementing mobile wallet. Telecoms disabled the capability from the phones because they were developing their own mobile wallet solutions and wanted to control SIM-based NFC. So Google dropped SIM-based NFC, the most direct and secured way to protect security and privacy with Secure Element, and implemented HCE (Host Card Emulation) based mobile wallet. Even though it’s not as secure as a SIM-based solution, the HCE solution is beyond the control of telecoms.

Control provokes innovation by requiring creative solutions to market dominant. History repeats!

On the other end, Apple has been filing patents for NFC communication technology but still hasn’t added NFC capability into their devices. Their blue ocean strategy is to find a market space with no competitors. At the same time, their actions have slowed down the adoption of NFC technology and pushed BLE forward. Apple is also exercising a control with its vast user market. Again, innovation will emerge to escape the control. History will repeat.

NFC Solutions Summit 2014 will be held in Austin, TX on June 2-4. I trust that the NFC ecosystem will demonstrate strength and creativity on mobile wallet solutions through collaboration and innovation. Extreme early discount to purchase a ticket is available until April 2nd. Reserve your seat now!


NFC iPhone 4 ISIS Mobile Wallet Experience

Yesterday, I went to an AT&T store to enable ISIS mobile wallet in my iPhone 4. Even though Apple hasn’t added NFC chips into their devices, iPhone cases with NFC chips embedded are sold. There are two different cases available. One is Incipio’s CASHWRAP™ Mobile Wallet Case and the other is Isis Ready® Case. I chose an Isis Ready® Case.

The rep, having enabled her own iPhone 4s for ISIS, was very helpful to assist me. She put a micro SD into the case and provisioned my phone for ISIS payment. I went through a verification process to set up the mobile payment. I chose to use American Express Serve and received $50 credit upon activation. It took some effort (many taps) for the payment reader to recognize an NFC payment, but I was able to apply the $50 credit towards purchasing the case.

Then, I went into Jamba Juice to test out ISIS payment.  Jamba Juice offers free drinks until the end of March when customers use ISIS to pay. People working at the Jamba Juice helped me to use ISIS, though it didn’t work after many tries. They said they got a lot of “not working” ISIS payments, but they still gave away free drinks anyway to honor the offer. I wonder whether AT&T or ISIS keep in touch with the point of sale and collect initial surveys about  ISIS mobile wallet user experiences.

Today, I went to another AT&T store to find out how my ISIS transactions can be improved. Was my iPhone 4 too slow? Was the connection between my iPhone and the case working correctly? Was the particular case broken? The store rep informed me that I needed an ISIS SIM card to communicate with the reader. They installed a new SIM card into my iPhone. I went to anther Jamba Juice shop to test it. This time, it worked on the first try and the store indicated that they had quite a few people coming in with ISIS mobile wallet and that they didn’t have many problems accepting these payments.

It’s good to know ISIS mobile wallet does work for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. I will do more research about the ISIS SIM necessity for iPhone. The NFC cases are also available for iPhone 5. I wonder if we will still need an extra NFC case for iPhone 6. I am sure it’s a question in many people’s mind.

If developers are interested in learning NFC coding, please look into the NFC Forum Spotlight for Developers event happening next Friday March 21st in San Francisco. It’s much better to be prepared to write NFC apps before the technology takes off.

Are you using ISIS Mobile Wallet? What is your experience?


NFC in 2013

NFC had a good run in 2013. Every month, we heard exciting news about NFC products or trials being launched. These launches have extended far beyond the “mobile payment” category to include product/service marketing, toys, games, furniture, printing, utilities, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, quality control, inventory management, service automation, and more.

ABI research pointed out that smartphones will continue to account for the majority of NFC shipments in 2013 as volumes jump by 129%. However, from 2014 onwards, computing products, peripherals and automotive will have greater adoption of NFC, and consequently, smartphones will decline from a peak of 80% of all NFC device shipments in 2013 to less than 60% in 2017.

NFC and other connectivity enablers are greatly expanding an “Internet of Things (IoT)”. It’s obvious that we are becoming increasingly connected through wireless technology, and M2M communication is on its rise. A good example is that Google and Apple are about to expand their battle to a new front: the automobile. This was reported by the WSJ a couple of days ago.

Big data is a buzz word nowadays. NFC, RFID, QR Code, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are all types of sensors that contribute to the big data scenario. Big data analytics are going to produce valuable information about consumers and merchandise. It’s also going to change the retail store shopping and mobile phone experience.

One of the usages of NFC is mobile payment. Recently, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile launched ISIS – NFC mobile payment using a SIM-based secure element that manages payment credentials. It will take a while before the consumer market adopts this technology since NFC is not yet a familiar technology, and mobile payment is not a yet a common practice.

In addition, a different approach to implement mobile wallet emerged. Google Wallet led the way to adopt the Host Card Emulation (HCE) approach in order to implement NFC secure app independently from telecom’s control of SIMs. Tim Horton’s, a North American coffee chain, has also launched an NFC mobile payment service using HCE at 3,500 locations in Canada and 800 in the United States. It will be interesting to watch the battle between various NFC mobile payment implementations and adoptions.

2014 should be an exciting year as NFC products and services continue to grow in availability and usage.

ISIS – Not an Option for my Galaxy 3

Yesterday, I was at the AT&T Store to get an ISIS SIM card in order to use ISIS mobile payment. The rep was very excited since this was the first time she has activated an ISIS SIM card. The store manager Chris was next to us assisting her. He was very pleasant and introduced Digital Life products to me while we were waiting for ISIS to work.

After trying two ISIS SIM cards, three reboots of the phone,  four technical support calls and 1.5 hours waiting, my Samsung Galaxy 3 kept on returning with an error message that read “ISIS requires a new SIM card with a Secure Element”.  Tech support was transferred from AT&T to ISIS and the problem remained. So ISIS tech support suggested to transfer back to AT&T tech support. Finally, we decided that ISIS was not going to be an option for my phone.

I looked at the Google Play store and found similar dissatisfied comments made by other consumers. Carriers have some work to do to fix these problems.

ISIS Mobile payment started its trial last fall in Austin and Salt Lake City. It uses NFC technology for data exchange and secure element in the SIM card to save credit card information. Since a SIM card is hard to hack, a SIM based secure element is a more secure solution. Secure element will also be used for storing credentials for building access; for example hotel room locks or office building access.

The transportation market segment is also planning to store credentials to SIM based secure element so that mobile phones can be used to pay transit fare. Since the carriers’ infrastructures are not ready, the transportation market may get impatient and give up on secure element.

I hope the future secure element based NFC applications will work well so that consumers can really enjoy NFC technology and pick up the technology as Asia and Europe have. A good news is that ISIS has introduced ISIS Alliance Program to support the ecosystem. We shall keep an eye on its development.

NFC Mobile Payment and ISIS

Seattle Technical Forum held its monthly meeting on November 13th. I was invited to speak on NFC (Near Field Communication). Most of the audience was not familiar with the technology. As an introduction, I did a demonstration by tapping an NFC-enabled phone to a tag pasted on my business card. The audience was surprised to see my Amazon author page show up on the phone as a result. This demonstrated how NFC tags can be used to distribute information.

In my 15 minute presentation, I explained basic NFC technology, shared some current NFC applications, compared QR code with NFC tag usage and shared my vision of NFC’s potential. Karl J. Weaver, another NFC presenter, explained NFC secure mode in detail and focused on the mobile payment landscape. His speech was uploaded to YouTube. Drawing on his working experience in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong for Gemalto over the last five years, he offered a lot of insights on NFC mobile wallet.

In the Q/A session, the majority of the questions asked were on NFC security. People were curious about the adoption rate of the ISIS mobile wallet and the compatibility between chipset Secure Element used in Europe vs. SIM-based Secure Element used in ISIS.

ISIS, launched today, is a joint venture of T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon. It’s an NFC mobile wallet implementation that allows NFC-enabled mobile phones to serve as a wallet. This is a link to AT&T’s announcement, which includes steps that need to be taken in order to enable NFC mobile wallet. NFC World also shows video clips on how to use ISIS.

Currently, ISIS only works with Android devices and there are limited merchants. Since telecoms haven’t promoted NFC-enabled phones despite their rapid release last year,  it will be interesting to watch how consumers adopt ISIS.

It was a pleasure to present in the Seattle Technology Forum. Other speakers, Roy Leban (Why Mobile Doesn’t Matter), Arvind Krishnan (Negotiating the Mobile First Challenge) and Jeremy Foster (Mobile UX Paradigms) all had awesome presentations and invoked lively discussion with the audience.

New iPhones’ Impact on NFC

Today, Apple announced the upcoming release of iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. There are descriptions and discussions about the two iPhones to be released. Unfortunately the revelation that neither phone will have NFC capabilities is a disappointment for the NFC ecosystem.

Despite this fact, iPhone Touch ID, a new fingerprint sensor feature for authentication, may have significant implications for the NFC ecosystem. One of the values that NFC provides is security. Common practice is to save sensitive information in the Secure Element (SE).  For example, ISIS, a joint venture between AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, uses this practice for secure mobile payment. With this approach, permission is needed to access SE. Permission is granted after a successful authentication from carriers.

Touch ID has the potential to be utilized as an authentication option for accessing SE. Moreover, Touch ID could limit the need for using UICC/SIM based SE. UICC/SIM based SE is an operator-centric option, since carriers control the access of the UICC/SIM. It provides ultimate security because no one can access it without a carrier’s permission. 

Many stakeholders in the NFC ecosystem want to bypass carriers’ control over SE. Touch ID has the potential to shift our perspectives on security and authentication. What are your thoughts on this possibility?