Cell Phones Replace Conventional Entry Tickets ... and More
June, 2006Access, according to observers of the latest technological trends, is becoming ubiquitous. Driven by consumer demand for greater mobility and convenience, the idea is to make access to a wealth of services and functions available from virtually anywhere, anytime. "Near-field communication" (NFC) provides a sound technological basis to making it all possible.
When embedded in mobile devices such as cellular phones, NFC opens up a wealth of applications, from information access to payment and, of course, ticketing - all available conveniently through a single device. This technology's uses also will include things such as integrated cashless payment, pre-booking services and information exchange for a variety of purposes.
A pilot installation, which has been established in cooperation with a customer, is already up and running in the Netherlands.
NFC Technology: The Basics
NFC is a standards-based, short-range wireless connectivity technology. It comes in the form of a chip that can be embedded in electronic devices for contactless interaction. The technology operates typically over a distance of a few centimeters, making it ideal for applications requiring physical proximity between the device (or its owner) and the corresponding reading device. Apart from ticketing, this is important, for example, in secure payment transactions, as it gives the user the assurance of being in control of the transaction.
The basic configuration of an NFC application always requires two elements: an NFC-enabled portable device (usually a mobile phone or PDA) that holds the required permit, ticket, etc., in electronic form; and a reader (e.g., an access, payment or booking terminal with built-in NFC support) capable of communicating with the NFC device using standardized protocols.
One important advantage of NFC over other mobile phone functions is that it remains unaffected when the phone's battery goes flat. The NFC chip in this case simply reverts to the functionality of a passive RFID data carrier: i.e., one that does not actively transmit information but, is instead activated and powered by the induction field of the reader/scanner. This way, NFC tickets, for example, are retained and can be used even when the mobile's battery runs down.
So far, two general-use parking cases have been implemented: the first allows NFC-enabled phones to be used as short-term tickets; the second involves the use of NFC phones for long-term contract parking permits.
In either case, the NFC-enabled mobile phone takes over the role previously played by conventional tickets or plastic cards. As they arrive, patrons hold their mobile toward the terminal at the entrance gate, instead of taking a ticket. This causes the device to be registered, along with other relevant details such as the time and location of entry.
Payment for short-term stays can be made either at a pay-on-foot station or directly at the gate when leaving. Holding the device toward the scanning point brings up the amount due on the screen; the fee can be paid by any of the supported methods (e.g., cash, credit or customer card, etc.). Contract parkers can skip this step, as they can have the fee billed to their account. At the exit gate, the mobile phone can again be used to open the gate and leave.
In effect, the NFC-enabled mobile in this scenario takes over the function of the usual paper-based (e.g., barcode or mag stripe) ticket, introducing what may become known as "paperless parking."
NFC Ticketing: Both Security and Convenience
With NFC embedded in mobile phones, it also is possible to use their telecommunication capabilities and provider services for ticketing and related purposes.
For example, once tickets are stored on an NFC-enabled mobile phone, they can be transferred to other mobiles. NFC provides the necessary data protection, offering full smartcard security and compliance with ISO standards for proximity cards.
There are many other practical advantages as well. For example, NFC can be calibrated to use the mobile's keypad and display for interactive purposes (e.g., entering a PIN code, confirming a purchase or viewing information).
The future of NFC is closely linked to the future of its carrier devices, particularly those with telecommunication capabilities, which will provide controlled access to services and functions on a large scale. NFC will act as a "hub" technology, closing the gap between the pre-booking of services or permissions on the one hand and their actual - contactless - use and payment on the other.
Adding payment functionality will turn the NFC-enabled device into a credit card with even greater advantages (a mobile phone is quicker and more reliably at hand than a credit card or electronic purse, for example). This means that from pre-booking to use to payment, all aspects of the parking (or other service) transaction will be consolidated in a single, personal device for easy contactless use.
Another future NFC application is travel ticketing for all sorts of public (or private) transport. Air tickets, for example, can easily be packaged with parking, valet services, etc. over NFC.
Shops also will be able to use NFC ticketing for validating their customers' parking with a simple swipe of their NFC-enabled device across the NFC point at the checkout. The same applies for crediting bonus points to shoppers' customer accounts.
Gradually, NFC support will be extended to more areas of (conditional) access. Possible applications include things such as "smart posters": i.e., billboards with integrated NFC chips providing information and direct sale of tickets via NFC-enabled mobile devices. All it takes is walking up to a poster advertising an event (possibly packaged with parking) and holding one's NFC mobile over the scanning point. This brings up a purchase offer on the display, which needs only to be confirmed to allocate the desired number of tickets directly to the mobile phone - no waiting, no fuss.
If the ticket offer includes parking, the required permit is transferred to the NFC mobile as well, ready for use; of course, this also allows for dispensing customer discounts, information, access privileges and many other benefits.
Thanks to Skidata for its input on this article. Editor