London’s Underground won’t adopt slow-coach NFC

London’s Underground metro may have recently introduced Wi-Fi and extra 3G capacity in time for this month’s Olympic Games – but mobile payments remain some way down the track.

“We have carried out tests on NFC in both 2008 and 2010,” Transport for London customer experience director Shashi Verma told GigaOM.

“Unfortunately, during both of these tests, we found that the technology was not fast enough to complete the transaction in under 500 milliseconds, which we would require.

“The concerns are only around NFC technology and not EMV. We are keen to see any progress the industry can make in this area.”

Since 2003, many London Underground and bus commuters have swiped through gates using Oyster, a card containing an RFID chip that can authenticate users in 300 to 350 milliseconds.

Swiping via mobile phones, which many commuters are already carrying during their journeys, could be the holy grail. Following its 2010 trial, Transport for London had initially said mobile NFC would be introduced from 2012.

But technology standards in the emerging mobile payments area are still being thrashed out, with rival manufacturers each adopting varying alternatives – and the big beast of Apple yet to declare its hand with iPhone 5.

Until then, Transport for London has decided to sit on its hands because, in this Olympic year, every millisecond counts.