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Inside Contactless releases open-source NFC protocol stack

Reflecting a clear and growing trend in the mobile industry, contactless chip technology provider Inside Contactless is making its Open NFC commercial-grade near field communication protocol stack available in a free and open-source edition.

Available under the Apache License, Version 2.0, and offering a consistent API across all NFC hardware, Inside Contactless’ Open NFC 3.4 is now available for WinCE 6.0 – compatible with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 handsets – and Linux 2.6 platforms. An Android implementation will debut with the planned release of Open NFC 3.5 at the end of March.

“We provide hardware and software to handset manufacturers and others in the mobie industry, and the plan for us is to reduce the market fragmentation and to accelerate the market adoption of NFC,” said Loic Hamon, vice president of marketing for NFC at Inside Contactless, Aix-en-Provence, France.

“We’re solving a problem—when companies want to deploy NFC, by having an open-source software platform, it will help them to integrate the NFC component more easily,” he said. “The immediate benefit for a payments application is that hopefully a lot of handsets and software will integrate NFC technology.

“It’s also good for application providers, which can integrate a high-quality NFC stack into their software and not be locked into any hardware.”

Inside Contactless specializes in open-standard contactless payments and near field communication (NFC) semiconductors and software that power the next generation of payment, transit, identity and access control applications.

The company’s microprocessor-based platforms can be embedded in smart cards, mobile phones and other consumer electronic devices, documents, badges and other items to support a range of contactless applications.

Inside Contactless has delivered more than 350 million contactless platforms worldwide to customers and partners that include payment card and mobile phone manufacturers, systems integrators and financial institutions.

Inside Contactless has worked with Motorola, Orange and Qualcomm.

NFC to enable mobile contactless payments
Open NFC fits right in with the trend toward open platforms in the mobile industry. It has the potential to benefit device makers, software developers and the contactless mobile payments ecosystem in several ways.

Inside Contactless expects that making its platform open-source will provide greater impetus for companies to implement NFC across a broad range of consumer products.

The company anticipates that the availability of an open-source NFC protocol stack should also improve the interoperability of NFC devices, and thus accelerate market adoption.

The Open NFC protocol stack, formerly MicroRead Software Foundation, provides a complete NFC middleware platform for mobile phones, embedded products and other devices.

Open NFC supports several levels of functionality, from low-level radio frequency control to high-level NFC Forum tag handling, peer-to-peer communications, as well as Bluetooth and WiFi pairing, interactions with single-wire protocol SIMs and other secure elements.

It is compatible with smart cards and RFID tags based on Felica, Mifare and ISO 14443 standards.

Having an open-source NFC stack like Open NFC is a game-changing development, providing greater flexibility in sourcing NFC controllers and a consistent programming interface, according to a Motorola spokesperson.

Orange believes Open NFC will be a catalyst for change in the NFC marketplace by reducing market fragmentation and removing barriers to adoption of this promising technology.

A Qualcomm spokesperson said that the company understands the increasing importance of open-source and community-driven software to the mobile industry, particularly as customer demand for open and flexible software coupled with powerful mobile hardware platforms continues to increase.

Qualcomm now offers two complete NFC handset reference designs, one based on an HSUPA Mobile Station Modem (MSM) chipset and one based on a Qualcomm Single Chip (QSC) platform for CDMA2000.

The two reference designs leverage Inside Contactless’ NFC platform, enabling device manufacturers to bring NFC handsets to market more quickly and at significantly reduced development cost.

Open NFC was originally developed for Inisde’s third-generation MicroRead NFC chip that provides the broadest range of NFC options, enabling numerous new contactless applications, and was the first NFC solution to support the single-wire protocol (SWP).

The MicroRead suite combines third-generation silicon, a full set of interfaces, NFC software libraries and APIs, a field-proven reference design and standards support to provide a contactless reader platform.

According to a report from Juniper Research, open-source operating systems are now running on 60 percent of the smartphones on the market, and the number of smartphones shipped with open source operating systems will increase from 106 million in 2009 to 223 million by 2014.

“Open NFC lets our customers and partners rely on APIs that are not fragmented,” Mr. Hamon said. “We hope that if this is integrated with most OEMs, operating systems and software providers, it will shorten the time to market for NFC.

“We’re working today on NFC phones that are going to be deployed this year for commercial launch in Europe, and in the U.S., the first commercial deployment of NFC will be in 2011,” he said.

“In fact, there will probably be commercial deployments of NFC-enabled handsets in most markets worldwide by 2011.”