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Air side

By Dave Birch posted Nov 9 2009 at 6:20 PM

[Dave Birch] The whole business of air travel is a laboratory for experimenting at the boundary between public and private identities, where national and international agreements interact with corporate alliances, outsourcing and value chains to produce a complex environment that needs and benefits from change. Speaking as a frequent traveller, and happy near-weekly user of Heathrow's Terminal 5, it seems to me that air travel has got considerably quicker, more efficient and simpler in the last couple of years. I print my boarding pass out at home, jump in a cab or on the train, nip through T5 to the lounge and then on to the plane -- the only hold-up in the whole process is the queue for security on the way out (sometimes this can be 10-15 minutes even at T5) and the queue for passport control on the way in.

However, the need to print a physical boarding pass, even using 2D barcodes rather than a magnetic stripe, and the lack of an efficient bag drop system means that despite the universal electronic ticket for air travel, more than two-thirds of passengers still went to a check-in desk. Where to look for the next improvement? Well, I'm sure like most people I think that the key technology that will change this is the mobile phone. If the mobile phone allows you to check in and obtain a boarding pass, and a kiosk at the airport allows you to self-tag (clearly there are some security issues around this) then the flow through airports would increase significantly and the costs would reduce accordingly.

In fact I saw a presentation for one of the companies that supplies infrastructure to airports recently an they were talking about their experiences with the mBCBP (mobile bar code boarding pass) -- they said that "we only care about Blackberry, iPhone and high-end smartphones", which means we can assume big, clear screens -- but still the current 2D barcode solutions don't carry enough data for the airlines to store more than three legs plus frequent-flier and other data.

So why am I looking at this space? One of the biggest players in the industry, IER, is advocating the "pass & fly" sticker solution and I saw them present on the Air New Zealand and Air France case studies which, I have to say, was rather impressive.

As we have discussed repeatedly over at the Digital Money Forum, there are many organisations who can see the consumer pull for contactless solutions and the consumer excitement around these contactless solutions when linked to the mobile phone. The mobile industry (by which I mean the combination of handset manufacturers and operators) has messed around to the point where they have driven people to seek alternative solutions and stickers are emerging as the favourite. Less functional than NFC, for sure. Bypassing the handset manufacturer and the operator, absolutely.

I see that yet another step in this direction was taken last week when Twinlinx (who make an NFC sticker with a Bluetooth interface) announced they are working closely with Inside (the founder of Twinlinx came from Inside):

INSIDE Contactless, a leading provider of advanced, open-standard contactless and near field communication (NFC) chip technologies, and TWINLINX, an innovative market entrant providing NFC technology platforms and applications, today revealed they are working together on the integration of INSIDE`s secure components in the TWINLINX MyMax NFC sticker, and are cooperating to gain type approval from major bank card brands.

[From INSIDE and TWINLINX Team On MyMax NFC Sticker | Reuters]

To be honest, I'm unconvinced about the "fancy sticker" approach. I think simple stickers, which do not connect with the phone at all, are adequate to get new businesses off of the ground in preparation for NFC in the handset, whereas the cost and complexity of loading software into connected stickers, while adding obvious functionality, may well outweigh the short term gains. But I may be wrong. In any case, the market is evolving, and the nexus of contactless interface and mobile phone must remain central to the ID management roadmap.

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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