Smart Navigo reportedly launching on Apple Pay (Updated)

UPDATE
March 15: Could be that Apple Pay Navigo is a no-go, at least for now. Received the following bits from readers. Take it with a grain of salt as none of this is confirmed, but these kinds of things never are:

Long story short they did about to have a agreement with Apple early this year regarding the card emulation where Apple requires all transactions passed with Apple Pay only and well…the French anti-trust didn’t happy about that. The deal is then voided and restart from 0, Apple won’t let other payment systems in the app because of margins.

Navigo on iPhone will only arrive when pay-as-you-go functionality is fully operational (probably because of commission fees if you believe the rumours)… which will only arrive next year (2022) at best, when all exit gates will be equipped with validators


Smart Navigo, the Paris~Île-de-France region digital transit card for mobile, currently on Galaxy devices and Android smartphones with Orange SIM cards, is reportedly coming to Apple Pay in February. Although France was an early innovator of NFC on mobile phones, it did not lead to early mobile transit adoption: Smart Navigo launched in September 2019. Apple Pay Navigo would be the first native transit card (closed loop) for Apple Pay in Europe, it would also be the first smart wearable for Navigo users thanks to Apple Watch. The Calypso based Navigo transit card launched in 2001 and had a large upgrade in 2019 to add more transit services and mobile.

Navigo operator Île-de-France Mobilities has reportedly been in talks with Apple ever since Smart Navigo was first announced in 2017. At that time they said:

“Unfortunately, it won’t be possible for iPhone owners to use the service since Apple does not yet allow third parties to access the NFC secure element in their phones. However, we are happy to explore the possibilities with Apple to offer the same service to all Paris public transport users.

Apple has a uniquely flexible custom embedded Secure Element (eSE) in their A/S Series chips that can be updated to support additional NFC protocols. Calypso is an open protocol that uses NFC-B, it would join the other major Apple Pay protocols, EMV (NFC-A) FeliCa (NFC-F) and MIFARE (NFC-A), that are all proprietary. There isn’t any technical difficulty adding new transit cards. It’s a matter of negotiation and deal making, which can take time.

Apple usually likes to roll out new transit cards following an iOS update. iOS 14.4 would fit a February launch window. There are also reports that Apple Pay Code Payments are working in recent iOS 14.4 internal builds. If all of this pans out, iOS 14.4 could be an important update for Apple Pay users, especially in France.

UPDATE
January 8
01 News reports that iPhone users will be able to reload Navigo cards for day/weekly /monthly passes with an updated ViaNaigo app using NFC starting January 20. This is an important first step of implementing Apple Pay support in advance of the full Apple Pay Navigo service launch due in February and confirms the earlier Le Parisien report. It also follows the 2020 Apple Pay Octopus rollout which saw an updated iOS app with iPhone NFC recharge feature released before the service launch.

UPDATE 2
January 13: The updated iOS Ile-de-France Mobilités app (previously ViaNavigo) with NFC reload for Navigo cards was released. iPhone 7 and later devices are supported as this follows Core NFC device specs, however iPhone XR/XS support is missing in the initial release and said to be addressed soon. There is also an issue with iPhone SE2 that needs to be restarted to work properly. No word if the iOS 14.4 update will fix the issues or not. These issues are fixed in iOS 14.5 and later.

Transit Gate Evolution: tap speed matters more than ever in the COVID era

As COVID restrictions are eased and the world slowly goes back to work, school and hopefully slightly more normal life, avoiding crowds will be key in keeping COVID from becoming resurgent in the months ahead.

For commuters in Japanese metro areas avoiding crowds is no easy matter. Fortunately the Japanese transit gate infrastructure is a great help. FeliCa based IC transit cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) with fast transaction speeds combined with open gate flap design maximizes people flow: people walk through gates at normal pace. This is very important for Japanese stations that have to make do with large crowds in limited spaces and narrow gate areas.

It’s wrong however, to think that this only applies to Japan. The benefits of fast tap speed combined with intelligent transit gate design are relevant everywhere and very necessary in this day and age: fast gate tap speed is essential in keeping gate crowding at a minimum. It makes things safer not only for train operation, but also addresses crowd control health concerns in the COVID era.

A reader sent a link to a good discussion of NFC protocols and gate tap speeds that was apparently deleted when YouTube comments were turned off. I retyped the comment in the section below from a screenshot with some light editing for clarity. If I find the author I will link to the original. The videos have already appeared in other posts but it’s good have them in one place. A previous installment already covered QR transit code gate issues, this post will focus on NFC tap speeds.


While transit gates and NFC processors are found worldwide, what makes the Japanese gates different from the rest of the world is they don’t use global standard ISO 14443 (never mind Type A which uses Miller bit coding, the least efficient bit coding method) protocol which is common in many transit and bank cards issued worldwide.

The tap time with ISO 14443 Type A (née Philips) and B (née Motorola) varies greatly: from 200 to 500 milliseconds (ms) with 200 ms only achievable with Type B/Calypso. But it never reaches the short as 100 ms which is only achieved with Felica developed by Sony, also designated NFC-F and NFC Tag Type 3 by the NFC Forum and compatible with ISO 18092 which is commonly found in smartphones and NFC wearables since 2013. In this following video passengers maintain their walking pace but never overshoot and trigger a gate closure nor slow down not even a bit:

It may seem like a minor difference but due to the high volume of passengers per gate and to reduce gate maintenance requirements, tap times really matter.

Companies such as JR East have specified tap time of 200 ms but Suica is actually faster and this allows real life speed tolerances: some passengers tap faster than others due to walking pace, the higher speed tolerances are only possible with the 100 ms tap time of FeliCa. A comparison example of large crowds at gates in Malaysia and Japan below:

Open Loop NFC ticketing in its current form is based on EMVCo Contactless specifications adopted in contactless bank cards issued worldwide including China UnionPay QuickPass which is PBOC derived from the EMVCo Contactless spec. All of these use ISO 14443 Type A at 106 kbps only for 500 ms tap time, which is adopted in cities worldwide such as London, New York, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro where normal walking speed is never supported.

But as seen here, transit cards in Japan such as Suica, PASMO and ICOCA are supported for ultra hight speed and precise account verification and fare processing. Transit cards use offline Stored Fare (SF) which includes the amount of funds stored in the card’s IC smart chip data storage, NOT backend on a server like a bank card, and stored commuter passes. Here are walk flow comparisons for Tokyo and London, and MTA OMNY Open Loop performance:

Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki tests OMNY transit gate speed…
and reliability

As the videos make clear, tap speed is the most important part of the total package that makes a transit gate, from NFC sensor and antenna communication distance, to fare processing transaction software to physical barrier design. Be it an antiquated turnstile, a sliding panel, or a flap. A key reason for the ultra fast performance of JR East gates is Suica speed coupled with a larger antenna area plus the barrier-less transit gate design that doesn’t impede walk flow.

EMV is payment technology created for leisurely supermarket checkout, not whizzing through transit gates at rush hour. It doesn’t address the needs of transit and never will in its current format because it is tailored for, and controlled by credit card companies. One example is that EMVCo certification requires a small antenna communication distance, as in store reader communication distance. This is to prevent EMV skimming out in the wild, but the restriction doesn’t make sense for transit gates which operates in a controlled settings.

One hopes the NFC Forum works to increase NFC speeds and global specifications to “improve the overall user experience for NFC users,” because all NFC flavors are capable of delivering FeliCa-like speed, in theory but the truth is in the tap. Improving the NFC user experience is what it is all about and what the NFC Forum can do. With the addition of Ultra Wideband to Mobile FeliCa and Mobile MIFARE it is time for the NFC Forum partners to revisit the global NFC ISO 14443 and ISO 18092 specifications.

NFC Forum partners need create a single faster more reliable NFC standard encompassing NFC A-B-F and other wireless technologies, a new standard that improves and expands the NFC user experience on mobile devices for transit, digital identity keys and payments, while making it all future-proof.

Related
Transit Gate Evolution: Do QR Codes Suck for Transit?