Contactless Sport

The other week, I got my first contactless credit card – a Visa payWave. You’ve probably seen the ads for payWave and PayPass cards – the banks have been issuing them for a while now – and I was keen for my old card to expire so that I could get a new card with this feature.

That said, I haven’t gotten the chance to use its contactless capabilities yet, but that’s not to say I haven’t noticed anything different. The day after I added the new card to my wallet, my Myki travel card stopped working.

The problem is that both my Myki and my new payWave credit card use a wireless standard called ISO/IEC 14443 that operates at 13.56MHz. Myki uses a technology called MIFARE that complies with this standard, while payWave uses contactless EMV technology. However, while they are sisters in the technology domain, neither card pays any attention to the other when in my wallet, and they interfere when I put the wallet near the reader in a station turnstile.

One solution to this is to replace the wallet with a special RF-shielded one, like this, and place the different cards in the right spots so that interference doesn’t occur. However, while I experimented with some strategically-placed aluminium foil in my wallet, in the end all I needed to do was ensure that the EMV and MIFARE cards were distantly separated by a chunk of other plastic cards and a coin pouch (I know my wallet is chunky, but I can still fit it in my pocket!).

While this may be a first world problem, it’s still something that’s going to occur more and more as new contactless cards are added to the wallet. Today, I have just a travel card and a payment card. But in the future, I am likely to have more payment cards, plus a contactless library card, drivers licence, medicare card, health insurance card, auto club membership card, frequent flyer card, etc. It won’t be possible to distantly separate all these cards from each other, and they won’t play as nicely with each other as I would like.

One of the great advantages of contactless is that it’s so convenient. For example, I don’t need to take my Myki out of my wallet to get through the station turnstiles. However, in the future scenario above, that sort of convenience might apply to one card, but not to the rest.

As a software guy at heart, I see the logical solution being to turn all of these cards into pieces of software running on a single piece of hardware – that way the multiple pieces of hardware won’t conflict at the radio level and, essentially, changing the game. Whether that hardware is a phone, a dongle or just another plastic card, this has got to be the future for contactless.