London’s adopting the world of wireless in a big way this year. In order to gear up for the Olympic games, contactless payments have spread across the capital, enabling anyone with an NFC phone or wireless-enabled bankcard to buy their lunch with a mere swipe. But, despite rumblings to the contrary, it seems as though the same’s not going to come true for tube travel any time soon.
Transport For London has ben testing mobile phone schemes on and off for four years. In that time, it’s tried a number of different approaches, but has apparently deemed that NFC, the wireless solution du jour, just isn’t speedy enough.
Speaking to GigaOM, TFL’s customer experience director Shashi Verma said that the company’s “found that the [NFC] technology was not fast enough to complete the transaction in under 500 milliseconds,” which it suggests is a must to keep things flowing on the Underground.
For a sense of scale, the current means of swipey-boopy tube access is the Oyster card, which use RFID technology. That will register your account and grant you access (or make an embarrassing ‘denied’ screech) in 300 to 350 milliseconds.
That jump to 500 milliseconds and above may not seem like much, but when half of London’s commuter’s seem intent on moving at a glacial pace anyway, it’ll add up. So what’s the answer? TFL says that the problem only applies to NFC, and not EMV – the rival standard – adding: “We are keen to see any progress the industry can make in this area.”
Are NFC’s days already numbered, then? Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure: the only way you’re going to use your phone to enter the London Underground this year is if you glue an Oyster card to the back of it.