updated 10:25 pm EDT, Thu March 17, 2011
RIM fights carriers over how NFC BlackBerry works
RIM is clashing with carriers over plans for NFC-equipped BlackBerry phones that could be a sign of things to come for Apple and others, unnamed carrier officials said Thursday. The company is fighting with GSM carriers like AT&T, Rogers and T-Mobile over where to store the personal identifiers needed for making the short-range wireless payments. Carriers want the information to be encrypted in SIM cards so that it can be portable, the WSJ said, but RIM wants the information stored in a secure memory partition on the phone.
The approach would make it harder to switch away from a BlackBerry without reloading those details. However, it would also prevent carriers from having a large amount of sway over how NFC was used or complicate any switch away from a carrier. RIM's model would favor those with unlocked phones by letting them carry info from network to network, even to another country. The company is also believed to be talking to banks directly and could skip middlemen that might hike the price of a transaction.
RIM's new attitude would contrast sharply with its past. The company has almost always compromised to guarantee as many carrier deals as possible, including disabling certain apps and features or letting them dictate the software layout. Providers are, in a rarity, asking RIM to reverse course.
Software Senior VP Jim Tobin wouldn't comment on specifics but said that RIM would still be "carrier supportive."
The conflict might be a dry run for an encounter with Apple, which is rumored to be adding NFC to the iPhone 5. Where RIM or Android's creator Google will often let carriers have say over most of the software, Apple demands that the firmware be stock everywhere and usually only allows modifications to carrier profiles for access to features like tethering. It may follow a similar strategy to RIM and put identifiers on built-in storage rather than the SIM. Bell mobility corporate development head Almis Ledas was already anticipating a dispute.
"We expect some closed operating system vendors will probably try to build [them directly] into the handset," he said. "RIM and [Apple] fall into that category."
Google and Nokia typically make large concessions to carriers that would more likely see the information stored in the SIM, and the former is believed to be rolling out an NFC trial with VeriFone later in the year. Even among those cooperating directly, though, it's not clear how soon a truly established standard would emerge. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are partnering on Ibis, but the plan might not share much in common with what's eventually offered in Europe or the existing FeliCa system in Japan.
Success in pushing a more device-centric NFC strategy should become clearer in mid-to-late 2011, once RIM introduces its new BlackBerry lineup and Apple introduces the iPhone 5.