Japanese operator SoftBank Mobile announced plans to trial NFC m-payment services from mid-January 2011, which it said will “pave the way for increasingly convenient and satisfactory global-standard NFC services and solutions in Japan.”  However, in its initial phase the scope of the three-month pilot is limited, being confined to employees of the participant companies. The trials will use a SIM-based NFC implementation, using smartphones manufactured by HTC and powered by the Android 2.2 platform. It complies with the GSMA’s Pay-Buy-Mobile requirements, which are based on Single Wire Protocol (SWP) technology. The initiative will use MasterCard’s PayPass contactless payment system, and will be supported by two credit card companies, Credit Saison and Orient Corporation. Smart card company Gemalto will provide products and technical support, and other participants are Kyodo Printing and Trusted Logic. SoftBank has already inked a deal to work with peer KDDI and South Korean counterpart SK Telecom to deploy an interoperable NFC payment platform. Both countries already have some contactless payment services in place (Combi Card in Korea and FeliCa in Japan), although these are currently incompatible.

While NFC has been something of an industry hot-topic for some time, the technology has picked up some momentum in recent weeks. On Monday, Google announced its Nexus S smartphone, which includes support for NFC, making it the first high-profile device to do so. It has also been reported that Nokia’s C7 smartphone is shipping with NFC hardware installed, but without the software necessary to enable the technology – Nokia has also manufactured a number of devices used in early pilots. NFC has also been suggested as a possible feature of Apple’s next-generation iPhone, and is believed to be an area of focus for RIM’s future BlackBerry devices. Support in the operator community is also growing, with AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless recently creating a joint venture called Isis to work in the NFC space, and China Unicom has also identified the technology as a possible growth area.