It’s hard to get a precise count of exactly how many MIFARE-based smartcards are in use today, but the number is in the billions. MIFARE can be found in more than 70 countries, servicing dozens of applications, from transport and access to micropayments and more.
There’s no denying that smartcards have made everyday tasks easier, saving time and adding convenience to things like riding the bus, entering a hotel room, or paying for a meal. But what if all those cards could be replaced by a smartphone? There would be fewer things to carry (and lose), and we would save on plastic and paper. Plus, the features of a smartphone app could add extra services, like online purchases and support for loyalty programs.
The good news is that the technology for making this happen is already in place. NFC-enabled smartphones are compatible with the MIFARE infrastructure, and can be used as smartcard replacements. Simply tap the smartphone against a MIFARE reader, the same way you tap a MIFARE smartcard against the reader, and you’re done.
A new programming interface, called MIFARE4Mobile, helps mobile network operators, trusted service managers, and service providers manage MIFARE-based services in NFC mobile devices. The interface is under the domain of the MIFARE4Mobile Industry Group, which is made up of leading players in the NFC ecosystem, including Gemalto, Giesecke & Devrient, NXP, Oberthur Technologies, and STMicroelectronics.
MIFARE4Mobile is a single, interoperable API for remotely provisioning and managing MIFARE-based services in the embedded secure elements and SIM cards of mobile devices. It supports over-the-air (OTA) updates, so service providers can access MIFARE resources in a secure element in a trusted and consistent way. It also renders card content on the phone screen in a convenient and flexible way, for a consistent user experience, and provides full interoperability with other card formats.
Virtual MIFARE smartcards make transport, access, and payment that much more flexible, and that much easier. The smartphone app can be configured to add value with new capabilities, like using the phone to top-up an account, track points in a loyalty program, or receive a room key before arriving at a hotel. OTA updates ensure the app is always up to date, and makes it easy to enhance the service with new features.
Service providers considering a move to virtual MIFARE smartcards should keep a few things in mind. It’s important, in the early phases of development, to specify each handset model and operating system (OS) version to be supported, so variations can be taken into account. It’s important to do more than just copy the functionality of the plastic card, because including value-added services is likely to be a key driver that draws people to the new format. Also, promoting the new capabilities helps drive acceptance and maximize the investment.
MIFARE and MIFARE4Mobile are registered trademarks of NXP Semiconductors N.V.