Four Cool Things You Can Do With Host Card Emulation

A guest blog by David Shalaby, TapTrack

Since the release of Android 4.4 (KitKat), the NFC community has been buzzing about the possibilities that Host Card Emulation (HCE) allows. At TapTrack, I am frequently asked about HCE and what it means in the grand scheme of things. In this article, I will define what card emulation is as it relates to the three modes of NFC, explain it from a technical perspective and explore some cool applications that developers can realize with HCE.

In addition to reader/writer and peer to peer modes, card emulation mode rounds out the NFC feature set by allowing an active device to respond to commands from a reader terminal as though it was a passive tag.

Before HCE, commands from a reader terminal would be sent directly to the secure element or SIM card (figure 1a). HCE changed that by allowing reader commands to be sent to the Android OS (figure 1b) and processed by a standard Android app. HCE finally gave NFC developers access to the card emulation feature without the burden of running your application in the secure element or SIM of the user’s device, to which most developers don’t have access.

For #android developers: Android Implementation of Card Emulation Mode

Figure 1: Android Implementation of Card Emulation Mode

From an ecosystem standpoint, it’s the cure to the common annoyance of having too many plastic cards to carry around. That said, there are more applications than reducing the number of credit and debit cards in your wallet.

Here are four cool non-payment applications of HCE:

  1. NFC loyalty: Using an NFC reader and an app, developers can now create loyalty programs that are flexible to the NFC adoption curve. An Android app armed with HCE can be used for the early adopters and NFC cards given to those without NFC phones. For areas with high NFC penetration you can skip the physical cards altogether and make the platform more scalable by provisioning cards virtually without third party involvement.
  2. Use an Android device to make an interactive digital display: Using Bluetooth to control it, an Android phone can now be a dynamic tag that synchronizes to a digital display. Disabling the Android Beam ™ would probably be required to avoid invoking it with the user’s device, but HCE could allow such a use case.
  3. The NFC door lock: With strong security, cloud based secure elements are possible and are now in use with HCE to power contactless transactions. With such security, it is possible to create an NFC door lock that would allow homeowners to provision temporary access credentials to guests, relatives or even Airbnb users. Without HCE, such a use case would have been possible only with a relationship with handset makers or carriers.
  4. Peer-to-Peer substitute: HCE can be used as a peer to peer workaround. Some NFC chips are capable of reader/writer mode only, and there are many use-cases that benefit from a lower cost reader. With HCE, information can be passed between an app and a reader without actually using peer to peer mode.

Questions or comments about NFC and HCE? Add them in the comments section below and join the conversation.

About our guest blogger: 

David has worked in the NFC business for two years and developed numerous hardware and software implementations of NFC projects. He has extensive knowledge of the space both from a technical and business model perspective. Founder of the NFC startup TapTrack, David is recognized as an expert in NFC applications and has lectured at NFC educational events all over the United States and Canada. David holds an MBA from the Rotman School of Business (University of Toronto) and a BASc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.

TapTrack is a full service NFC solutions provider with extensive experience and know how in both hardware and software NFC projects. They have a robust NFC cloud platform as well as their own innovative cloud connected and platform integrated wireless NFC readers. Follow TapTrack on Twitter: @Tap_Track

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