New System-in-Package Brings NFC Payment to Wearables

STMicroelectronics' ST53G is designed to enable makers of battery-powered watches or other devices to integrate contactless payments or other NFC functionalities into their products.
By Claire Swedberg

During the past year or so, Vignes says, there has been growth in wearable devices, many of which would benefit from NFC technology, including—but not isolated to—watches. The ST53 is designed to also employ the power built into such a wearable device if it comes with its own battery or power supply. "With the battery," he states, "you are able to accomplish better performance, including the distance and speed of the read."

A wearable device can come with or without a battery. Payment applications can be added by embedding the ST31G480 MCU with the payment application. It can still be read, but with a short range that could require a reader be placed immediately next to the tag. With the ST53G using the booster and power from the device, on the other hand, companies can "increase the user experience—reading distance and volume—as well as secure transaction robustness," says Anne-Laure Sixou, from STMicroelectronics' central marketing division for communication market intelligence.

The technology will enable new use cases, STMicroelectronics predicts, since it will allow developers to create NFC-based wearable applications that previously were neither convenient nor affordable. "Practically speaking, the market is not established yet," Vignes says. The module, therefore, provides new opportunities for applications to be developed. "We are convinced that this type of integration will offer an opportunity to add functionality to wearables at a low cost."

That could mean makers of watches could create products that would allow consumers to pay for goods with a wave of their watch over an NFC-enabled point-of-sale device. The system could also enable solutions beyond payments. For instance, in the case of health care, an individual wearing a sensor could forward data to a health-care provider by waving his or her NFC-enabled phone near the device.

The ST53G SiP can be provided to companies along with a software developer's kit (SDK) so that they can create their own software or apps. In the case of payments, STMicroelectronics provides ST53G with an embedded operating system known as STPay-Boost. STPay is a read-to-use payment operating system that works with Mifare, Mifare DESFire and all major payment schemes, such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

The module samples are commercially available now and are expected to be in full production early next year. The new modules will be demonstrated at the Trustech secure microcontroller industry trade show, to be held next month in Cannes, France.

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