Orange looking to end NFC's "chicken and egg"


Orange's Mung Ki Woo speaks to Mobile Europe, but won't comment on rumours that he's joining Mastercard

Mung Ki Woo, vice president of the Orange group's electronic payments and transactions unit,  has told Mobile Europe that the operators' commitments to NFC are intended to "get the industry out of the the chicken and egg question which has been hampering NFC for the last few years."

The operator, which had already targeted a national deployment in France in 2011 has expanded its NFC ambitions to all its territories in Europe. It said in late 2010 that it will systematically place NFC-enabled SIMs into the market starting from the second half of this year. It has also committed to having half of the smartphones it sells be NFC enabled.

Woo said, "Everybody is waiting and wants to deploy and put NFC in people's hands. We are waiting for the handsets, and the handset manufacturers are waiting for orders, and the service providers are waiting for the telcos to deploy handsets. We want to help in resolving this situation."

Of course, handsets are not the only issue in deploying mobile NFC. There need to be services and applications, backed by the payment services providers, as well as till and point of sale (PoS) infrastructure. Activity in Europe to date has mainly centred on City-wide trials, where ecosystem players are brought together in controlled circumstances.

Orange was one of the participants in the Nice CityZi trial, where participants included four telcos and two banks, as well as a transport provider. Although Orange talks of a nationwide deployment, that trial's structure will not be mirrored in Orange's deployment in late 2010. As Woo said, his telco is taking the step of bringing more NFC SIMs and handsets into the market. The services will have to follow. Yet Woo said that he thought the country was in a good state of readiness for NFC services.

The transport infrastructure is well placed with contactless infrastructure, he said, and national supermarket chain Carrefour has equipped its stores with NFC PoS units, as well as placing 2 million contacless cards into the market.

"Our towns and cities are also taking action, so we are very optimistic," he added.

A recent report in NFC Times, picked up elsewhere, indicated that Woo may be about to leave Orange to join Mastercard. When Mobile Europe asked if there was any truth in that, Woo offered no comment.

So it remains to be seen whether Woo will see NFC in France develop from inside or outside of the telco.