An experiment in near-field communications is underway at Arizona State University that shows the potential and future of NFC-enabled smartphones. The university has been rigged so that a select group of students can use their NFC smartphones to gain access to university buildings and resident's rooms. Students have said that they would be interested in using their smartphones to pay for public transit, meals in dorms and to purchase merchandise.
This is precisely the type of test that is the precursor to widespread adoption. Test are performed at universities, rolled out to other small communities and the businesses and large corporations. Within a few years, everybody is doing it. NFC-enabled smartphones are just starting to make that journey.
NFC & Trusted Identities
ASU has partnered with HID Global to perform the experiment. HID is a supplier to original equipment manufacturers for authentication and credential management, secure identification along with a variety of other services. Student's smartphones have been fitted with HID's product called iCLASS SE which is a reader and credential platform that acts as an access-control endpoint. It is integrated with HID's Trusted Identity Platform for cryptographic keys. Essentially, it is the scan-able security badge gone digital and pumped into a smartphone.
To a certain extent, it does not really matter what company is providing the technology for the experiment. Of primary interest is how this is an example of the first steps that NFC is taking to change the fundamental nature of how people interact with their daily lives. Anybody who has been in college in the last 10 years or so knows that most of campus life is dominated by the student ID. At ASU, that is called the Sun Card. Student ID cards these days allow access to buildings, dorms and acts as a debit-card for meal halls or printing in the library.
Soon, all that functionality will be done through a smartphone.
Just The First Steps
It is important to note that the experiment at ASU is just that ... an experiment. There are a variety of factors that need to mature before NFC truly changes daily life for a vast percentage of consumers. The first NFC-enabled smartphones are just now coming to market. It is unclear if the iPhone 5 will have NFC, though many think it will not. There is little in iOS 5 beta that would allude to it. It is important to not overlook the importance of Apple adopting NFC when it comes to changing user behavior. Soon in the United States more than half of consumers will own smartphones.
That is an inflection point that has not yet been reached, as currently about 40% of consumers have smartphones. At the same time, many consumers will be behind in the development cycle with non-NFC smartphones. Given the nature of the two-year carrier contract, that means that consumers are going to be locked in (or locked out of NFC) to their behavior pattern for the foreseeable future.
But, there is inertia. The NFC boulder has started to roll down the hill. Soon it will come to full speed. NFC will jump from universities to living rooms with the smartphone as its beating heart.