[Dave Birch] Over on the Digital Money Blog, we’re obsessed with the spread of NFC technology built in to mobile phones because it will have a disruptive impact on the retail e-payments world. But the technology will undoubtedly have an impact on the identity world as well, and not just because the NFC-enabled mobile phone is an ideal personal identity management device, but also because it bridges the local and remote environments to provide infrastructure for the internet of things: in fact, one might argue that bringing mobile into the picture (the internet of things 2.0) turbocharges the whole concept. The Auto-ID guys seem to think this as well. At the St. Gallen/ETH Zurich Auto-ID Lab, for example. They agree that NFC-enabled mobile phones could give consumers access to the EPCglobal Network. This isn’t because NFC phone can read EPC tags — they can’t, because NFC technology, which operates in the high-frequency band, and EPC technology, which operates in the ultrahigh-frequency band, are incompatible — but because they could link local devices that can read tags (Bluetooth-connected pens and that sort of thing) into the savant network needed to make RFID work in a useful way. It’s possible, of course, that UHF EPC readers may be integrated into mobile phones in the future, though it’s technically challenging because the readers drain a lot of energy from the phone’s battery. What’s more likely is that some applications will end up using NFC tags. I tend to favour this NFC direction on the overall roadmap, because it links to the wider demand for NFC phones. While NFC is still in pilot for most operators around the world, this is about to change as an increasing number of commercial launches are due to take place in 2008: while in the short term there still remain important challenges for the development of NFC-enabled devices, analysts are saying that in the long term NFC will be a feature supported on the large majority of the phones sold. This already the case in Japan, where NTT DoCoMo has FeliCa contactless technology embedded in about 80% of the phones they sell. There are no great technological or cost barriers for NFC to be integrated quickly into a wide range of devices, so this must stimulate a tag ecosystem.

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A good illustration of where we might be heading with this was Atmel’s announcement of its CryptoRF tag, which it claims as the world’s first 13.56 MHz RFID device with 64-bit embedded cryptographic engine, sixteen individually configurable zones and mutual authentication capability. I think this is an important development, because a crucial element in the Internet of Things is tags that cannot be duplicated (in other words, the tag gives up not only the data it contains such as an EPC but also a digital signature based on a key that is never disclosed). In case you are interested in the CryptoRF devices you can purchase them for $0.75 for 25,000 units, which strikes me as being pretty reasonable if you’re going to stick it on a laptop, pair of jeans or airplane tire. This doesn’t stop you from taking a tag and putting it on something else — although hopefully other elements of the new identity infrastructure, such as the necessary provenance network — will mitigate against this. But it does stop you from making bogus tags, and that’s a big step.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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