Micro-SD still a strong option

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Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International, RBI, is planning to roll out microSD cards and an iPhone attachment, seeking independence from mobile operators. Although the SIM is still expected to be the primary secure element for NFC rollouts, especially in Europe, some service providers, such as RBI, are looking for alternatives.

While mobile operators continue to push for the SIM card to become the de facto secure element in NFC phones, some banks and other service providers are still seeking alternatives. The products that continue to draw the attention of a number of banks include microSDs, as well as iPhone attachments – the latter using either microSDs or embedded secure chips as secure element – reports Dan Balaban.

Of course, there are no strong signals yet that microSDs, either as part of phone attachments or working in full NFC handsets, will challenge SIM cards or embedded chips as the primary secure element in contactless-mobile phones. At present, the microSDs generally carry higher costs, face logistical problems and still lack standards.

Many banks have accepted that their applications will run on secure elements that they don’t issue, such as SIM cards.

And so far, none of these alternatives to the SIM or embedded chip have yet proved themselves among consumers in the limited commercial launches to date.

Yet launches of trials and even a few small commercial rollouts continue. Still considered NFC bridge technologies by some, the microSDs and other add-ons enable banks and other service providers to introduce mobile payment without paying rental fees or other charges to mobile operators or handset or platform providers.

This promise of independence from telcos could enable the bridge technologies to continue well after the rollout of full NFC phones-including the possible introduction of an NFC-enabled iPhone later this year.

Moreover, microSD cards are being standardized to work with full NFC phones.

The latest commercial launch announcement is from Raiffeisen Bank International, one of Austria’s largest banks, which late last month said it was planning to introduce mobile payment for customers with iPhones, using microSD cards and contactless sleeves.

‘We have decided to launch this service with microSD cards in order to be independent from mobile operators, and because we do not want to wait for full NFC phones,’ Gerald Kubu, head of card service at the bank, told NFC Times in a statement.

The microSDs will store a Visa payWave debit application that acts like a prepaid card, and Raiffeisen Bank International, or RBI, plans to introduce the m-payment service on microSDs with other smartphones.

While RBI calls the service a ‘rollout,’ Austria currently has no payWave point-of-sale terminals and will have just a couple thousand contactless POS terminals deployed in 2012, according to Visa Austria.

But small countries, such as Austria, are not the only places where service providers are asking for microSDs, including those that can work in full NFC phones using a single-wire protocol, or SWP, connection between the NFC chip and microSD card slot.

In China, the dominant payment network, China UnionPay, is rolling out the technology, with at least one major bank and several handsets, including two to three that have already been released. One is an Android model made by HTC.

The technology could move to Taiwan, next, with MasterCard Worldwide and at least three Taiwanese banks interested in issuing microSDs running MasterCard PayPass, likely using the same HTC model equipped with a special SWP connection to the microSD slot.

And even in France, birthplace of the SWP-enabled SIM card, there are stirrings that one or more French banks are looking at alternatives. Groupe BPCE and Cr