Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Oysters, Chickens, Eggs, NFC

O2's trial of using NFC handsets to interface into London Tube's Oyster card payment network was apparently a resounding success, which is great news for two groups of people - those who make NFC chips (currently in almost no non-Japanese handsets), and those who hang out next to Tube stations waiting to steal phones (a large special interest group, if the Metropolitan Police's poster campaigns are to be believed).

Any sharp-eyed thief will now know exactly what handset Tube users have and which pocket they keep it in, which will certainly help them restrict pickpocketing to the higher-end , higher-value devices.

The silver cloud in this potential orgy of phone theft being, of course, that almost no handsets available in the UK have NFC, and there are almost none on the current release schedules either - a situation which has been the status quo for some time. Nokia have now released three special NFC-edition handsets over the years (each replacing the last), but these aren't generally supplied to users by UK networks - they can be bought unbranded at full retail price for anyone who wants one.

Without any NFC services, not even early adopters will pay a premium for a mid-range handset just to get an NFC chip, and without any users no services are rolled out, etc etc. Oyster could conceivably be a big enough kick-start to the market that manufacturers will start to build the chips into every handset - as analysts have predicted will happen for some time (just like mobile TV and so many other mobile services which have failed to gain users). However, given the relative market sizes of the entire GSM market and the Tube core regular users, I'm not holding my breath...