It was just a year ago when JR East dropped the Suica bomb at the NFC Forum Japan meeting. In his presentation, JR East IT/Suica Operations Center manager Hajime Yamada explained JR East’s participation in the Public Transportation Workshop (PTW) starting in 2014, and the NFC ‘Harmonization’ effort by PTW participants to roll all NFC flavors, Type A (Philips) Type B (Motorola) and Type F (Sony) into a single seamless world standard for public transportation transit systems and fare payments.
PTW members agreed to align GSMA and NFC Forum specifications with ISO standards for transportation. The result was an update to the ISO/IEC 10373-6 specification, and GSMA/GCF (Global Certification Forum) TS. 26, TS. 27 specifications. The implications are that starting from April 2017, GCF certification for NFC mobile devices requires NFC Type A/B and Type F support.
Seen in this light Apple adding NFC-F support to iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 in September 2016 was merely a head start over the competition to get GCF NFC certification in place before the new requirement started in April 2017.
The entire JR East presentation with slides was reported in Japanese by IT Journalist Yasuhiro Koyama and is well worth a read if you have the time and ability. It was the starting point for all Japanese press reporting that iPhone 7 would include FeliCa technology, later picked up by Bloomberg. There is also a similar document in English explaining the new GCF certification testing requirements for NFC devices.
Suica for Anybody from Anywhere
With a single seamless NFC standard and certification process in place, JR East roadmap goals are very clear.
- Japanese customers with Mobile Suica devices can use their devices for public transportation and transit payments abroad.
- Global specification certified NFC devices from abroad, (Inbound) can use Mobile Suica.
So when do ‘inbound’ iPhone 7 users from abroad finally get to add Suica to Apple Pay? After all, every iPhone 7 has the same NFC A/B/F chip right?
JR East says there are still a few kinks to work out: specifically how the NFC side and the fare processing/app/data storage sides communicate with each other. There aren’t agreed upon open standards and every platform has their own solution: Apple Pay (Apple A Series Secure Enclave), Android Pay (HCE-F), Samsung Pay, etc.
With Suica already on Apple Pay and Apple controlling both software and hardware, it is simply a matter of when Apple turns on NFC-F for all iPhone 7 devices everywhere. Apple usually does that when rolling out new devices. Like Japanese IT journalist Nobi, my bet is on the upcoming iPhone 7S/ iPhone Pro announcement.
I suspect another reason that Apple has held off doing so is the Apple Pay Suica exclusivity window. With that exclusivity due to run out in September, I think JR East will open up Mobile Suica to Inbound iPhone 7S users, and probably Android Pay users as well.
It’s going to be fun.
A Few Interesting Facts
- Japanese station gates are designed to be capable of 60 passengers per minute. To do this the conditions are:
- Processing time of fare transaction has to be within 200ms
- RF communication distance has to be within 85mm
- European station gates are designed to be capable of 30 passengers per minute:
- The processing time takes 500ms
- RF communication distance has to be within 20mm
The 85mm RF communication distance is achieved with a 1.1A/m (ampere per meter) in Japan vs. the 2.0 A/m strength of the European gates by using slightly larger antennas.
Japanese IT journalists such as Nobi have written that NFC Type F is the reason behind the fast Suica fare transaction processing. This is implied but not explained in the JR East presentation slides. NFC Type F employs symmetrical communication while Type A/B uses asymmetrical communication which may help explain the faster processing. The RF Wireless World page lists NFC Type F as “the faster form of RFID communication,” in comparison with NFC Type A and NFC Type B.