Android 4.4 KitKat may finally change the way we do NFC payments

by: Andrew GrushOctober 31, 2013


Just yesterday we reported on how the LG Nexus 5 utilized a BCM20793M NFC chip. What made this stand out is that this particular chip lacked the secure element needed to work nicely with Google Wallet. At the time it was speculated that this meant Google was getting ready to introduce a new system that no longer needed the secure element to function. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Android 4.4 KitKat now utilizes something called “Host Card Emulation” technology. With the HCE, your device basically emulates a ISO/IEC 7816 smart card, which basically allows it to work the same as a device that has a secure element. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist anyhow.

What makes HCE even more exciting is that ANY app can utilize it. This means that developers can now build apps that easily allow for NFC payments, card access, transit passes and more – without the secure element needed.

What this change means for mobile payments and Google Wallet

Up until now NFC payments have been a cool idea, but a very limited one. Part of the problem is carriers have flat out refused to support Google Wallet, claiming that the secure element poses a potential security risk. The truth is that these carriers likely just want to promote their own payment standards.

With HCE, it doesn’t seem to matter what carriers what or think. Any Android 4.4 KitKat device with NFC should now easily work with Google Wallet and other mobile payment services, on any mobile carrier.

Without the secure element controversy, mobile carriers will find it hard to shut this down. In fact, with the new payment system being a part of Android 4.4’s core, it may prove to near impossible to remove it without incurring Google’s wrath.

In short, this one change could potentially be all it takes to finally make NFC payments take off in a bigger way. Of course devices will still need Android 4.4 KitKat to work with this new NFC method, but with Google optimizing the new version of Android to work with devices to work smoothly with as little as 512MB RAM – it hopefully won’t be a problem for long.

What do you think, could NFC payments finally take off or will other roadblocks still get in the way?

  • Brookz

    But still won’t work in Canada….

    • Guyana

      But why doe?

    • Warren Marshall

      It will most likely work in Canada because 4.4 will support host card emulation, meaning carriers won’t be able to block it. Check out this article from nfc world nfcworld[dot]com/2013/10/31/326619/google-gets-around-carriers-host-card-emulation-nfc-payments/

  • MasterMuffin

    Will finally change only in US

  • Piterson Massenat Desir

    wait so i can tap and pay with kit kat without secure elements? The htc one has an nfc ship that does not have secure elements

    • takabanana

      yup. Well, you’ll need an app that uses HCE mode and has access to a cloud-based secure element (for open-loop payments). Exciting, isn’t it?

  • DonSerrot

    I’m really excited about this, hopefully this will lead to wider tap to pay options! I’ve gotten to use it a couple times at McDonalds, once with my Nexus 7 (2012) and once with my Nexus 4, and both times were a breeze.

    • adam evans

      It does sound awesome! Where are you? I’ve never seen anything in the UK?

      • Cole Raney

        I am in the U.S. and these things are actually common at Mcdonald’s. Even the McDonald’s in small towns have the equipment to do it, it was installed before phones could pay though. I remember there used to be these things like debit cards advertised that worked similar to NFC payments with a phone. I didn’t know it supported google wallet though.

        • adam evans

          sounds sweet! i never have much use for NFC aside from sharing a few photos, which is a shame because it could do some real cool things

      • DonSerrot

        In the US. Cole pretty much summed it all up for me! Lol

      • ashleytwo

        A lot of places have it as the Barclay’s contactless cards use it. There’s an outline of shops here:

        Doubt we’ll get Wallet anytime soon though.

        • adam evans

          yeah ive seen the contact lesscards here but never seen any one pay with their phone though. would be nice to see it over her as it seems carriers have less control in the uk

  • Roberto Richardson

    iPhone: We got a case for your phone that holds your credit cards
    Android: We have a phone that is a credit card

    Ah, just kidding not trying to start anything. Just can’t wait until Apple releases something similar and the world will weep with excitement at their innovation.

    • Brian Shieh

      “Introducing the iPay smart payment system. Just bump your phone against the receiver to pay. No this isn’t NFC, this is something better.”

  • Alu Zeros

    awesome if that’s the case, bring it to google wallet on every phone including the iphone if it’s possible

  • Alu Zeros

    would like an update on this when they start rolling out kit kat on other android phones to see if this is true

  • Rodney Thomas

    Always amazes me how apple is able to FORCE any update to their handsets and the carriers allow it, but when Google tries something – they are shot down immediately. What good is having 86% of the global smartphone marketshare if you can’t even get your payment app accepted by carriers?

    • takabanana

      It’s never been Google’s fault – carriers own the secure memory (Secure Element) on the UICC SIM – they hold the master key and unless they allow others into it, no one can store credentials (payment or access control or ticketing or whatever) for use with NFC (at least in Card Emulation mode – which is the standard contactless payment method built into POS terminals). Since Sprint was the only US carrier to allow Google Wallet to work in the Secure Element (while other carriers put together Isis for payments), Google really had no choice but to “open it up” – the NFC chip already had HCE capability. So although this allows more potential for Google Wallet to become more successful, it also allows ANYONE to become a Google Wallet competitor, and is better than having Google Wallet not take off at all because of the carrier’s grasp on the Secure Element… this will also help Access Control and Ticketing to take off, as well as allow banks to include NFC payment from within their banking app very easily.

      • Rodney Thomas

        Cheers brother. Great technical response – didn’t know it was THAT heavily on the carriers. But with Google having such a LARGE market share, I’m surprised they’re not bullying carriers into their laps (as apple did/does).

        Odd how my WiFi Nexus 10 doesn’t need this secure element on a SIM card but places it in the internal components instead. Why don’t phone manufacturers do the same thing?

  • Ruri

    so does this mean i can finally pay with any NFC device or do i still need a “NFC sim”

    • takabanana

      As long as you have Android 4.4 and above, and a device with NFC – you don’t even need a Secure Element (which resides on the UICC SIM, unless you are on Sprint/Verizon where they might also be soldered on the main board) anymore… This is GREAT not only for NFC payments, but access control, ticketing, and banking!!