Near Field phones come one step closer to replacing cashiers

Imagine if your cell phone represented your bank account. Rather than a "smart card," you could wave your smart phone in front of a payment kiosk. Today, the standard to bring that about worldwide took a huge leap forward.

Today, "wallet phones" took one step closer to becoming a reality with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute's (ETSI) approval of another Near Field Communications (NFC) standard.

Near field wallet phones (or Osaifu-Keitai, as NTT DoCoMo calls them) were first put to use in Japan around 2004. There, a properly-equipped handset could authenticate purchases merely by having its user hold it up to a reader -- very much like a Mobil SpeedPass dongle.

Near Field Communication is similar to RFID in that it utilizes inductive coupling to send data, but it differs because it is capable of two-way conversation between device and reader. Instead of passively offering the user's information, NFC devices can exchange more complex instructions.

The GSMA began an initiative called Pay-Buy-Mobile which has been advancing this technology's standardization through regional trials to eventually bring it to a wider market.

A demonstration of a cell phone-triggered payment system using the HCI interface standards announced today.

In October, the first major portion of this project was approved, when the ETSI adopted the Single Wire Protocol (PDF available here). The SWP, in short, links the user's Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC/SIM) to the near field communications chip.

Today's announcement approves the software layer that runs atop the SWP, allowing a single menu, secure interface that controls the user data.

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