London Underground: NFC's Just Too Slow

By Sam Gibbs on at

Well here's a thing. Ever wondered why London and other major cities around the UK don't use NFC-based payments for public transport yet? Apparently it's just too damn slow to cut the mustard and be actually useful.

Most UK cities use some sort of touch-based ticketing system in one form or another; the most famous of them all is probably London's Oyster card. You'd have thought that switching from a dumb card like that using a simple RFID, EMV-like system to NFC in a phone wouldn't be too difficult, but apparently it's just too slow to be of any use.

Talking to Giga OM, Transport for London's Shashi Verma said:

“Unfortunately, during both of these tests [2008 and 2010], we found that the technology was not fast enough to complete the transaction in under 500 milliseconds, which we would require."

The current RFID-based Oyster cards authenticate in around 300-350 milliseconds, which still seems like quite a long time to me, but apparently that's quite fast. For the time being, the holy grail of one NFC phone to rule all transport, payment and smartphone duties seems a little way off. It's a shame really, but you'd hope these things get faster with every iteration. Maybe the next one will make it under the 500-millisecond barrier. [GigaOM]

Image credit: TfL

Thanks Jeff!