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British Communications company Everything Everywhere and Nokia Siemens Networks have formed a partnership that will offer vending machine owners the opportunity to increase revenue and reduce costs through remote stock monitoring, increased customer interaction and multiple payment methods.Under the new initiative, vending machines will be linked to Nokia Siemens’ VendMe application and installed with Everything Everywhere SIM cards, connecting them to both the UK’s 3G network and France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom’s international footprint.

 

This connectivity will allow vendors to monitor stock levels remotely and plan replenishing of machines without the need to make site visits. Vendors will also have access to new ways to engage potential customers, through sending targeted messages to people in the vicinity of a smart vending machine and interacting with customers. Once customers are at a smart vending machine, they will not need cash to make a purchase, but can take advantage of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, through Orange Quick Tap from Everything Everywhere, or NFC-enabled cards.

 

Contactless payments are also possible through Reverse SMS and Chip & Pin, meaning the risk of leaving cash in machines is reduced, while the convenience to customers is increased. The smart vending machines will be piloted during summer, with commercial roll-out expected to take place later this year. Marc Overton, vice president Wholesale and M2M at Everything Everywhere says, vending is just one of many areas where we are offering services outside the traditional telecoms remit.

 

“There is great potential for M2M technologies to provide companies operating internationally in all sectors with instant access to data, making businesses run better and improving the customer experience,” explains Overton. Bernd Gross, head of the M2M business line at Nokia Siemens, says his firm is committed to driving the benefits of M2M applications into different industries by developing solutions that address a wide variety of requirements seamlessly and cost-efficiently.

 

“This partnership means we can offer our customers a reduced time to market of up to 60%, and with half-a-million vending machines across the UK and many millions more around the world, we see a great opportunity to use mobile broadband.” NFC communications is based on already existing RFID technology. It operates at 13.56MHz with a range of around 4 cm. The technology standard itself doesn't include any data security and is reliant on the upper communication protocols layers to provide encryption such as SSL.

 

NFC is still not widespread amongst mobile devices. Last year, approximately 40 mobile devices featured NFC capability and progress is being made developing SD card technology, which can be used on mobiles and smartphones that don't include NFC. Since the technology is so new, the security of the RF technology hasn't seen enough exposure to would be hackers or identified any unknown security holes. NFC, however, is not immune to Man in the middle, or relay attacks and the signal itself could be jammed completely as a nuisance.

 

Time will tell whether additional wireless security protocols are required as the technology matures, such as was seen in the early days of WI-FI, before WPA security become standardised. Will NFC replace money? I believe for low cost transactions like bus tickets, convenience stores perhaps. However, much work will be required before we will see the technology mature enough to being used for items costing several thousands of dollars.

By Angela Sutherland

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