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Smartphones Get Smarter with Near Field Communication; Expert Addresses Features, Future of NFC as Transactional Tool for Public Transit

APTA recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the nonprofit NFC Forum Inc. that will enable the organizations to collaborate on near field communication (NFC) technologies, which provide a wireless connection between mobile phones and wireless readers such as those seen in gated fare collection for public transportation systems.

Passenger Transport asked NFC Forum Executive Director Paula Hunter to provide some insight into the technology and what it means for public transportation.

Please describe, in layman’s terms, near field communication.
Right now, as you read this, hundreds of millions of smartphones around the world are NFC-enabled. It’s likely that your phone is and you might not even know it.

NFC is rapidly becoming a standard feature on most smartphones. In fact, according to the global information company IHS Technology, more than two billion NFC-enabled devices will be in the market by the end of this year.

NFC makes your smartphone or device a transaction tool as well. It is the contactless front end (a radio transceiver circuit) in your mobile device that can send and receive small amounts of data over short distances by putting your phone in close proximity to a NFC reader or tag.

This will allow commuters to perform interactions with their mobile devices like purchasing a train ticket, accessing digital content about a bus schedule or using a promotional coupon or reward program. For payment transactions, a passenger may simply have to hold his or her mobile smartphone within a few centimeters—called “tap and go”—of the appropriate NFC reader and a fare will be purchased, recorded and collected, granting access.

Some public transit systems have adopted NFC technology to make fare payment and boarding simpler and more efficient. Passengers on Tokyo’s public transportation system, for example, pay and receive access to various forms of public transportation by holding their NFC-enabled mobile phone near a NFC reader.

How will riders with non-Apple operating systems benefit?

Any passenger with a NFC-enabled smartphone or device will benefit. That’s the beauty of NFC technology. It is based on an open standard and available to all mobile smartphone manufacturers and public transportation organizations.

The NFC Forum plays an important role in setting technology standards and contributing to the testing of handsets to ensure global interoperability of all NFC-enabled devices. NFC technology is becoming ubiquitous in mobile smartphones and is simple and convenient for consumers to use. The key is to make sure the smartphone is NFC-enabled. This means that the mobile phone will have an inherent contactless front end (a radio transceiver circuit) that can communicate with other NFC-enabled devices and tags to send data over short distances.

What do you see as the next steps in the NFC Forum/APTA partnership?
Ultimately, we want to work together toward the unification of North American gated fare collection systems for public transportation using NFC technology to improve boarding speed, collection and access accuracy so a passenger’s experience is consistent across the country and public transit systems.

The first step in realizing our goal is combining APTA’s industry expertise with the NFC Forum Transport Working Group to define approaches for using NFC technology to address a range of needs, including supporting passenger information systems, ticketing and proof of fare payment. In parallel, we will jointly engage APTA members and other public transport organizations on NFC technology in public transportation, including collaborating on such activities as training courses, white papers, case study analyses, transportation research, webcasts and hosted events or trade shows.

About Paula Hunter
Hunter served for several years as executive director of the Outercurve Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that advanced the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities. Previous to that, she was director of operations for the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and director of worldwide marketing and business development for the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). She also held senior roles in several technology companies, from small startups to large ­multinational corporations.
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