France at the forefront of Near Field Communication applications
The card and identification market is expanding fast in France, with many home-grown businesses offering unique expertise in the field of smart-card technology. The sector is also attracting many international players, who are investing in R&D and production facilities.
- (1888PressRelease) November 29, 2011 - Near Field Communication (NFC), which is the technology used for contactless identification and transactions, has experienced rapid growth across the sector in 2010-2011.
France has recently experienced developments that make it a key player in the contactless-identification and contactless-transaction sectors. The CARTES and IDentification trade show was held at the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre (in the French capital) from 15 to 17 November 2011. It focused on the contactless card-and-payment industry, the Internet of Things (which is the term used to describe the virtual representation of identifiable objects by the internet), machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, as well as the development of identification technologies.
In May 2011, the French government issued a €20-million call for projects that support the deployment of NFC mobile services. From 20 to 30 contactless mobile-telephony projects offering information and payment transactions to be rolled out in several major French cities will be awarded funding.
According to EUROSMART, the international trade association that represents the smart-card industry, global use of smart secure devices amounted to almost 6.1-million units of contactless smart cards in 2011. These devices were used in telecommunications (4.6 million of which were in microprocessor cards), in financial and payment services (1 million), and in passports, identity and health-care cards (0.22 million). The rest was split between a variety of applications, notably in transport (such as tickets and tolls) and pay television.
French companies with recognised expertise in the smart-card security sector include INSIDE Secure, which is based in Aix-en-Provence (south-eastern France), but is also a member of the TES (Secure Electronic Transactions) cluster of excellence in Caen (Normandy): INSIDE Secure has acquired ATMEL's Secure Microcontroller Solution (SMS) division.
Gemalto is another established player in the industry, and is based in Sophia Antipolis (in south-eastern France). TAZ-TAG, for its part, is headquartered in Rennes (Brittany), and has entered into a partnership agreement with Quand Medical, a specialist in medical information based in Toronto (Canada).
In the field of identification technology, Bluelinea, a manufacturer of medical devices, is preparing for the 2011 launch of an electronic bracelet to monitor Alzheimer's patients in their homes. In this field, more generally, the ability to monitor any item, cargo, vehicle, animal or person requiring special surveillance will call for the detection infrastructure to be installed at compulsory passage points. Furthermore, ethical considerations that arise from monitoring and identifying people and goods will need to be assessed.
Other applications could quickly become widespread, concerning, for example, till procedures (in relation to bar-code scanning, for instance) and toll points (using RFID scanners). Similarly, there are widespread applications in ticketing - from urban-transport systems and the parking of vehicles to the management of bookings at theatres and other day-to-day transactions.
Foreign investors have been quick to seize opportunities in the French identification market by making use of tax incentives that support research-and-development projects wherever possible. These incentives include France's research tax credit.
Among the international companies having invested in France in this sector, SATO of Japan provides radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions from its Lille site (in northern France), while Markem-Imaje, a US-based specialist in coding and identification, has established a site close to the Secure Communication Solutions (SCS) cluster of excellence in Valbonne Sophia Antipolis.
For its part, German company Deister Electronic is a leading player in RFID solutions in Paris and its region. Another example is Maroc Traitement de Transactions (M2T), which has also established a site in the Paris region, with the help of IFA and the Paris Region Economic Development Agency (PREDA).
Innovation clusters that specialise in traceability, such as Novalog in St-Étienne-du-Rouvray (in north-eastern France) and SYSTEMATIC (based in Paris and its region), are also home to many foreign companies.
In October 2011, the NFC Forum, a consortium of manufacturers responsible for defining NFC standards, updated the so-called Simple NDEF Exchange Protocol (SNEP) specifications for peer-to-peer sharing, therefore setting out a common data format that can be used across all NFC devices.
SNEP enables two NFC-equipped telephones to exchange data simply by making the two handsets touch each other. This function can be put to a wide variety of uses: for exchanging business cards, gathering special offers for use at a later time, contacting and following people on social networks, exchanging small amounts of money or travel tickets, and so on.
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