Growing the Global NFC Footprint

One of the challenges facing Hong Kong Octopus Card expansion to digital wallet platforms is the fragmented state of Android hardware and the small footprint of Android global NFC devices. There are lots of devices that can do NFC-F because it is required for NFC certification, but there are far fewer global NFC ‘it just works’ devices. As always Reddit user FelicaDude has the definitive explanation:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

The good news for iPhone users is that Apple went global NFC with iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch Series 3 and later by implementing the complete FeliCa secure element (SE) package with keys on the Apple A Series and S Series chips. The important thing to remember is that Apple does this without any dedicated FeliCa chip, it is Apple hardware top to bottom. This means that Hong Kong already has a large footprint of Apple devices ready to use Apple Pay Octopus from day one.

The bad news for Android users is that a similar global NFC packaged Android device doesn’t really exist yet. All-in-one off the shelf global NFC chip packages like the NXP PN81 are new to the market, but the standard practice to date has been adding a dedicated FeliCa chip to a smartphone model only in the markets that need it, like Japan.

The Google Pixel 3 has the global NFC ready NXP PN81 but has not used it for FeliCa support, going with a separate hardware model for Japan. The Pixel 4 leaks so far have not offered any NFC information. The success of Pixel 3 in Japan guarantees that at the very least, Google will offer the same deal: a Pixel 4 FeliCa chip model for Japan.

If Google is smart, Pixel 4 will activate and leverage the entire range of PN81 global NFC functions for all models, or have its own embedded secure element on a Google custom chip similar to what Apple has done. Even with that in place, and even if Google Pay Octopus was a reality, the footprint of Octopus ready Android devices in Hong Kong is far smaller than iPhone and Apple Watch.

The global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch footprint means that lots of people in Hong Kong, or visiting Hong Kong can add Octopus to Apple Pay when iOS 13 arrives this fall. I predict 2 things: Apple Pay Octopus will be as successful in Hong Kong as Apple Pay Suica in Japan, and Apple Pay Octopus launch day will experience a similar stamped of online users that nearly brought down Apple Pay Suica iCloud back in 2016. It will be interesting to see what Octopus Cards Limited does with that success and how it grows the global NFC footprint.

FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.