Paying for public transport with your smartphone


Smart-OV is a test with a public transport payment method. The OV-chipkaart (Dutch public transport chip card) will be available on a special SIM card so that participants can use their smartphone to pay. A smartphone app will show the traveling transactions and the status of the card: 'Have I checked in (or not)?'.

Article from Objective #25, May  2016

The OV-chipkaart has now become a normal traveling feature. It is very convenient to be able to pay all forms of public transport with one card. However, we sometimes forget to check in or out and the status cannot be seen on the OV-chipkaart itself. In addition, it is yet another card to be added to your wallet. The user-friendly aspect could use some optimization. Why not integrate the OV-chipkaart into the smartphone? No more separate card and you can still manage everything concerning your trip with a user-friendly app on your phone. Technologically speaking, this should not be a problem. Many modern phones already have NFC technology that is also used by the OV-chipkaart to communicate with the gates.

Practical test

During the test 'Smart-OV', this idea was put into practice: a joint initiative of all public transport companies, Translink, KPN and Vodafone. Participants received a new SIM card from Vodafone and KPN with the new and functional OV-chipkaart. Checking in and out occurred in the same manner, namely by holding the plastic OV-chipkaart in front of the cardreader. An app showed the traveling transactions and the status of the card. Did I check in (or out)? What were the last ten journeys, what did the last journey cost and what is the current balance? With the Smart-OV, the bar for public transport is lowered and the traveler convenience increased.

The technological aspect of the test had to show that payment with the smartphone in public transport worked and is also user-friendly. Is it easy to check in with your phone? Does it require a certain angle in relation to the reader? Can conductors just read any type of phone with their equipment? No simple task with all the different brands and types of smartphones.

How can you put the OV-kaart into your phone?

For this test, we put the OV-chipkaart function on a new type SIM card. This card uses the NFC function that is already present in any phone and can communicate with the existing gates and card readers of the public transport companies. There no new hardware required at all.

It sounds simple: put the OV-chipkaart function on a SIM card and place it in a phone. However, this is an official payment method and the security is therefore an important aspect. That is why we use a special SIM card in order to safely communicate with the outside world. The SIM card has, among other things, a secured part (element) for safe storage of data and applications. Technolution, Translink's technology partner, has created a tool for Smart-OV in order to place the OV-chipkaart in a secured element.

A secured element can be compared to a bank in which a number of different secured cells function as lockers . The telecom provider is the owner of the SIM card and thus owns the bank. He is the only one that can communicate directly at management level with the secured element. He can also decide to allow others to store their application or data. Translink has rented such a locker and stored the OV-chipkaart in it. The SIM card in the phone has a direct hardware connection with the NFC radio communication of the device. This way, a safe and secured channel is established for communicating with the outside world.

User-friendly with smartphone app

The smartphone app is also constructed by Technolution. Because the phone can be used with an OV-chipkaart, the app is not a necessity. When the phone is turned off or shuts itself down due to low battery, the battery still has enough energy left to allow the OV-chipkaart to work. The app offers mainly user convenience. The traveler can view the information regarding the public transport journeys. In the future, it should be possible to buy products in a handy addition to the app.

Determining the route together

The Smart-OV experiment started with one clear goal: to pay for your journey with your phone and increase traveler convenience. All parties concerned figured out which road was best to take during the process. There was a constant collaboration and adjustment. Translink was the director and took care of all business aspects of this project. We supported Translink with establishing specification and by answering any questions of other parties. We have played an active role in business concept, possibilities and user experience and development of the app. As technology integrator we worked closely with the telecom providers.

The OV-chipkaart will be joined by the SIM card

The technological heart of the Smart-OV, the secured element, will also offer new opportunities for other applications. There are a great number of business cases that can benefit from such a construction. For example: placing keys in a secured element for access to a building or computer system. There are increasingly more services and affairs we can take care off via our smartphone. More and more random objects, such as cards that are currently still residing in our wallets and key rings, will probably migrate to the smartphone.

Continuation of Smart-OV

Currently, the test with the Smart-OV is being evaluated. If there will be any following steps regarding the development of Smart-OV, Translink and the public transport companies will announce it.


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