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issue: March 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

Technology Report
Advanced Communication


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An advanced single integrated circuit (IC) is said to bring Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities to electronic devices—and the mass market.

microread is a next-generation RF single silicon chip that uses Near Field Communication (NFC) for proximity data transactions. Incorporated into cell phones, PDAs or PCs, it enables them to operate like RF readers and contactless smart cards or RF tags.

The microread® IC from Inside Contactless is said to establish secure connections between electronic devices, helping to facilitate mobile payments, transport ticketing, access control, and other transactions from mobile phones or PDAs. According to the French company, it is the first NFC chip that provides the foundation needed by handset manufacturers and mobile operators to begin incorporating NFC applications into their products on a mass-market scale.
Mobile devices equipped with the IC can reportedly complete transactions with other mobile phones, or with other contactless reader terminals that are already in place. The device is said to support all NFC standards, which enables it to behave as both a reader and a card in order to execute secure contactless transactions. Furthermore, it enables RFID transactions commonly used for Access control applications.
One of the device’s critical design features is its SIM-friendly architecture, notes Philippe Martineau, an executive vice president at Inside Contactless. “The ‘SIM-friendly’ or better, ‘carrier-friendly’ architecture provides the right compromise between the carrier’s control over the use of NFC and the banks need for ‘independence’ in running and issuing their services,” Martineau says. “It is based on a link between the NFC component in the phone and the SIM card, and it allows the SIM card to be a master regarding NFC usage.” As a result, the NFC chip becomes a router, giving it the ability to control other secure elements in the mobile phone.
The chip supports all RF protocols, which Martineau says provides engineers with much more flexibility in application management, as it allows NFC applications to be run from multiple platforms such as handsets, secure element and SIM.
A “battery-off” mode supports both NFC and SIM power supplies from the antenna, which enables consumers to make purchases or access transport applications by leveraging the power field of the reader device. This ensures that contactless transactions can be made even when the battery of a mobile phone runs out.
Martineau notes that incorporating the IC into existing product designs requires specific antenna tuning—a service the supplier can provide to facilitate product integration.
The technology is currently being targeted to mobile phone companies, Bluetooth and WLAN technology providers, PC manufacturers, and contactless point of sale (POS) manufacturers. The IC has already been integrated into a Sagem Communication phone for a contactless mobile commerce pilot in France and is reportedly being integrated into several other NFC pilots worldwide.

 

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