Recharging Singapore's NFC node

Melissa Chua
02 Nov 2011

The dilemma surrounding NFC interoperability isn’t new. Scattered NFC deployments that often lead to little success have not escaped even a small market such as Singapore, whose regulators work hard at encouraging tech-savviness among consumers.

Attempts at growing NFC use have been spearheaded by the country’s three carriers at various points over the past four years, yet no single project has led to any tangible form of success.

The year 2007 saw both SingTel and StarHub announce modest NFC trials. StarHub teamed up with local contactless payment provider EZ-Link, whose operations largely centered on the public transport space; while SingTel, whose trial went public in 2008, joined hands with NETS, a local debit payment vendor and local bank UOB.

Smaller rival M1 waited until 2009 to launch its trial and pulled in Citibank and, for the first time, financial institution VISA.

While fund recharge methods, payment options and perks varied from scheme to scheme, all three trials failed to progress beyond the beta stage due to similar reasons. The NFC landscape lacked compatible devices – each trial was limited to a single phone type (StarHub disbursed the SZ1.0 from a local manufacturer, SingTel chose the Nokia 6131 and M1 opted for the Nokia 6212 Classic).

NFC adoption has also been held back by the lack of available locations supporting the payment method. StarHub’s trial was largely limited to the public transport realm; SingTel’s partner NETS was an established local payment player but NETS’ contactless payment terminals were only available at a handful of retailers. M1’s tie-up with Citibank and Visa was little better despite its launch two years later – many retailers accepted VISA payments, but VISA payWave terminals for NFC use were limited to a mere 750.

What the market needed was a solution that covered all the micro-payment points, and these early deployments could not service this need. Thankfully, the IDA recognized the failure points of all trials, and the first announcement by the IDA around the establishment of a nationwide interoperable NFC platform was made in February 2009, but partners and details of this plan were only released last week. During these two years, the IDA also focused on establishing a common local contactless payment standard, known as CEPAS, in the hope that contactless NETS and EZ-Link payments could one day be used interchangeably.

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