Orange sells 500,000 NFC handsets

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France Telecom-Orange has sold 500,000 NFC phones in France to date and is putting new models on sale at an increasing rate, said Thierry Millet, head of payments and contactless at Orange group.

But the France-based telco took two more months than expected to hit the 500,000-phone goal. Orange had predicted it would reach the half-million mark before the end of 2011. Millet said the telco did sell 500,000 phones before the end of last year counting phones sold by the Orange UK branch, site of the group’s other NFC commercial launch – writes Dan Balaban.

Millet, speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, said the operator had seven NFC phones on sale by the end of 2011 and has validated six new phones during Q1 2012 alone, which would cover France and the UK. It currently has about 10 NFC-enabled phones on sale from six handset makers, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Acer, Nokia, Research in Motion and Sony.

Millet said Orange recently hit a milestone by completing the testing to prepare an NFC phone for sale ‘in exactly the same time we validated a new phone without NFC.’

Among other things, the operator has blamed the failure to hit its earlier goal of selling 500,000 phones by the end of 2011 in France on the late arrival of NFC versions of such popular models as the Galaxy S II. The telco put this model on sale in the fall. All major French operators together had planned to sell 1 million NFC phones by the end of 2011, a target they also no doubt missed.

Orange, one of the most aggressive operators worldwide in rolling out NFC, plans to begin issuing NFC-enabled SIM cards to all new subscribers in France, whether they have an NFC phone or not, starting in April, according to Millet. That is an expensive proposition, with NFC SIMs costing at least a few times more than conventional cards. Some estimates place the price differential at five times the cost of non-NFC SIMs or more.

Millet, who confirmed that Orange is buying its first NFC SIMs for the rollout from France-based Gemalto, said the cards will not cost five times as much as Orange’s conventional SIMs, though he declined to specify the price Orange is paying. Turkcell said it was paying €4 ($5.33) apiece for NFC SIM cards from Gemalto for the Turkish operato’s NFC commercial launch.