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If you’re looking for the next big innovation that will propel new purchases of point-of-sale (POS) devices, look no further than your smart phone, tablet computer, or ultraportable. Manufacturers are already making mobile devices capable of near field communication (NFC)—the technology being used to establish radio communication between devices by touching them together or bringing them in very close proximity (see Figure 1).

 

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Figure 1. A woman in Tokyo purchases candy using a NFC self checkout stand. (Photo courtesy NFC Forum.)

 

According to a recent article, analysts and other observers say that nearly 40 million NFC phones were shipped in 2011 and around 100 million will be in 2012. A recent press release from The Smart Card Alliance reports that Sony, Intel, and other leading companies at the NFC Solutions Summit 2012 agreed that “NFC is coming soon, and when it does, it will enable a broad array of applications that will enhance the consumer experience—at the point-of-sale (POS) and in everyday interactions.” Recognizing the importance of NFC, Intel has moved up from being a Principal member of the NFC Forum to the top position of Sponsor level (see Figure 2).

 

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Figure 2. The NFC Forum is a non-profit industry association of leading mobile communications, semiconductor, consumer electronics companies, embedded manufacturers, and other interested parties. The Forum's mission is to advance the use of NFC technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services, and educating the market.

 

The major credit card companies are pushing for widespread adoption. Visa, MasterCard and Discover are mandating retailers to adopt the technology. For example, after October 1, 2015, these companies say that any merchant that cannot accept a contactless card or payment presented by a customer will be liable for any fraudulent transaction, instead of the issuer. To encourage migration, Visa is incentivizing merchants with the Visa Technology Innovation Program (TIP). Starting in October 2012, merchants can receive incentive benefits once 75 percent of their total transactions (across all sales venues) are initiated through a POS device capable of NFC and EMV. (EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and VISA, a global standard for inter-operation of integrated circuit cards.)

 

For developers this suggests a coming boom for NFC-enabled POS devices. Fortunately, Intel and Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance members have just platform to build it on. All 3rd generation Intel® Core® processors support NFC. In fact, you’ve probably read a lot of press about all the NFC-enabled ultrabooks coming out with these processors (see Figure 3). The inclusion of NFC turns these ultrabooks into a potential payment device (or, for that matter, a payment-accepting device).

 

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Figure 3. Intel vice president, Mooly Eden, led a CES press conference in which Intel highlighted its ultrabook efforts, including a touch interface, NFC, and gesture-based recognition.

 

The real story though is going to be in the next generation POS devices that use these 3rd generation Intel Core processors. Why? Because these processors will enable a new breed of intelligent POS devices that, in addition to NFC, provide better performance for less power, better graphics, support up to three displays, and improved I/O throughput for faster transactions.

 

The first processor to use Intel’s 22nm fabrication process, 3rd generation Intel Core processors deliver up to 20 percent better performance in the same thermal envelope as the previous generation. This makes them ideal for quiet, fanless designs. This same fabrication process enables a serious upgrade to the integrated graphics engine. It provides an up to 2X boost in 3D performance and can run three independent displays. This pretty much eliminates the need for a separate graphics card, plus lowers system power and component counts. What will retailers do with three displays? Think one for the cashier, one for the customer being checked out, and one providing advertising and other information to the customers waiting in line.

 

This new generation of Intel Core processors also gets a major I/O upgrade. With support for PCI Express* (PCIe) 3.0 and USB 3.0, it can more than double I/O throughput. Such performance can be helpful in keeping transactions fast and speeding up communications with the back end.

 

Naturally, any time you’re talking about something that will be handling people’s personal information and money, security is a top concern. This latest version of the Intel Core processor platform includes Intel® OS Guard and Intel® Secure Key. Intel Secure Key, a hardware-based random number generator works with Intel® AES New Instructions to protect media, data and assets from loss. Intel OS Guard protects an operating system (OS) from applications that have been tampered with or hacked by preventing an attack from being executed from application memory. Intel OS Guard also protects the OS from malware by blocking application access to critical OS vectors.

 

The 3rd generation Intel Core processors also carry forward a number of important features introduced in earlier generations, such as the Intel® vPro™ suite of hardware-assisted security and management technologies (see Figure 4). These technologies include:

 

 

 

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Figure 4. 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors include built-in, hardware-level security features.

 

Remote management is a big deal for retail chains using POS devices because of the sheer number of devices per store and the number of stores. For some good information on how Intel vPro technology enables and enhances remote management in a retail setting, I suggest you read a recent blog by my colleague, Maury Wright.

 

It’s important to remember that POS devices are going to be just one application for NFC in retail. There’s also going to be a market for NFC-based digital signs and kiosks that enable customers to download coupons or purchase out-of-stock items right in the store for home delivery. Nonetheless, it’s the need to enable payment at the checkout stand that will have retailers looking to update their POS devices in the near future.

 

Alliance members are just now coming out with boards based on 3rd generation Intel Core processors that can help manufacturers speed intelligent POS solutions to market. What do you think about the NFC revolution in retail payments? What kind of features do you think retailers will be looking for in new POS devices using Intel’s latest NFC-equipped processors?

 

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To view other community content on retail applications, see “Top Picks – Retail.”

 

 

 

Mark Scantlebury

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine

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