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NFC doesn't cut it on the London Tube, says public transport exec

The read speed is too slow for use on the London Underground

Read speed is very important when using contactless payments in public transport and the NFC technology still isn't fast enough to be used in the London Underground, an executive from the local transport authority said at the Open Mobile Summit conference in London on Tuesday.

Transport for London (TfL), which handles public transport in the U.K. capital, has been working on making NFC work for a long time. The company conducted tests in 2007 and 2008 using one type of Nokia phone and NFC was a big hit with users, according to Shashi Verma, director of customer experience at Tfl.

However, years later NFC still remains a technology that is just around the corner -- a corner that never seems to come, according to Verma. For any contactless technology to work in the London Underground, read speed has to be faster than 500 milliseconds, he said.

Using the Nokia 6131, Tfl was able to get the read speed down to that, but a standards change in 2008 made the technology slower, according to Verma. The secure element was moved from the phone to the SIM card, which increased the distance from the antenna and therefore extended the read speed, according to Verma.

But speed isn't NFC's only problem. The technology is still too difficult to use for ordinary consumers and if its proponents want NFC to become a mass-market technology worldwide it has to become less fidgety to use, Verma said.

Meanwhile, TfL is planning to allow travelers on buses to use contactless bank cards based on the EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) specification later this year and on the Underground next year, according to Verma.

The backers of EMV have spent a lot of energy on improving the performance, which is something the backers of NFC have to do as well.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com


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