Standard for secure mobile phone payments is on the way

The mobile phone industry has moved forward in its efforts to agree to a standard for delivering secure services like credit-card payments on handheld devices

The mobile phone industry has moved forward in its efforts to agree to a global standard for delivering secure services such as credit-card payments on handheld devices, according to an industry executive.

"There's momentum," said Nav Bains, projects director at the GSM Association (GSMA). "Everyone wants to move ahead."

Debate has been raging in the industry about where to locate the "secure element," or system for storing private data, in phones equipped with near field communications (NFC) technology.

NFC enables any two devices to connect and exchange information or access content and services simply by bringing them together over a distance of a few centimeters.

The technology is already being used for services such as mobile ticketing and could soon be used to replace plastic credit and debit cards in consumers' pockets around the world once a standard for securing private data is established, according to Bains.

The GSMA is pushing for the Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) to become the standardized component for storing sensitive data in NFC-equipped mobile phones.

The UICC is one of several options under review by the standards bodies NFC Forum and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). The other options include programming the secure element in software, embedding it in the phone or putting it on a secure digital (SD) card.

"We've seen a significant shift in the number of suppliers that now support our recommendation," Bains said.

Last Wednesday, Nokia threw its support behind the UICC option by joining the GSMA's Pay-Buy Mobile initiative, which aims to test end-to-end contactless payment service using NFC technology together with the special card.

"This is good news," Bains said.

The Finnish mobile phone manufacturer has previously focused on embedding the secure element in its NFC-enabled phones, according to Bains.

Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are among the more than 25 vendors and operators that have agreed to participate in the Pay-Buy Mobile demonstrations, scheduled to begin in October.

Next week, the GSMA plans to issue a white paper with technical guidelines for enabling NFC-based services on mobile phones. "The paper will focus on specific technical issues, which we believe will be useful to the standards bodies," Bains said.

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