Swipe your mobile to go on the Tube

So read the headline last night in the London free newspaper, London Lite as pictured above.

The article reports that o2 and Nokia are apparently working together to put an RFID ‘Oyster’ chip inside a handset. You’ll then be able to pay for your travel by swiping your handset over the existing network of Oyster terminals across the capital.

Apparently you’ll then be billed for your travel (or anything you spend via this method) on your mobile bill. Smart. Almost nirvana for the mobile operator as you’d seriously lock in your customers if they were using their handset for these kind of transactions.

For those reading abroad, this is what your standard Oyster card looks like:


Whilst it’s only credit card sized, it does become an arse having to carry yet another ‘thing’ — and it’s another thing to forget. Integrating it into a mobile handset makes sense to me.

A lot of newspaper shops now have Oyster terminals built-in, so you can pay for small value transactions using your Oyster card — ergo you’d be able to pay for a Mars Bar by swiping your mobile. How convenient would that be? How brilliant? FANTASTIC!

We’ll see. I’ll definitely give it a go.

Although, one issue: I change my handset like the wind at the moment…

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

9 replies on “Swipe your mobile to go on the Tube”

You can mod your phone to do this right now I just buy an oyster card to fiddle with, find out where the rfid bit is, and then cut that section of the card out with a stanley knife and stick it on the back of your phones slide out battery casing.

I’ll try this tomorrow and get back to you on whether or not it works.

One of my pet projects at the moment is trying to get the insides of an Oyster Card embedded in my phone..
(all advice welcome)
Which is a *slightly* different to this proposal – in that you get it added to your phone bill.

I’m all for convergence and carrying ‘one less thing’ around with me every day.
Hence why I’m currently having a row with Barclays about ‘PINSentry’.


Cue Dean Bubley’s Convergence-Seeking Missive of Death…

Seriously though, would anyone change networks just to combine the two? So then it’s a handset vendor play. Dingding all change at Handset Junction. But they need to sell through cost-adverse MNO’s. So where’s the rev share eh Ken? Any integration with the many flavours of OS will be a nightmare, so you are down to what Alfie proposes. And any edjit can Sellotape a chip to their handset. But what if it runs out and you have no mobile credit? (or, even worse, did that last bus trip swipe mean you now can’t call home to say you will be late again?) Ah, just top up both with your debit card from your…er…wallet.

Remind me why were we doing this again?

Already been done in Japan….

Slightly more cunningly the phones come with an application so that you can see how much credit is left on your card (the charges aren’t put directly onto your phone bill AFAIK).

I seem to remember seeing a watch in Hong Kong with one of their Octopus card chips embedded in it a few years back too. Although Octopus started out like Oyster it’s now used for all sorts of small cash transactions – London Transport can’t seem to get their act together to allow that though.

It’s quite neat to be able to pay for a drink by just waving your wallet/watch/phone in front of the vending machine anyway.

@whatley & @Alfie: Not quite as simple as just chopping out the RFID chip (which, if you’re looking at the front of the card, is located in the dark blue area on the left) you also need to take care of the antenna which consists of a loop of copper wire running around the complete edge of the card (about 5mm in from the edge actually).

It may be possible to use a scalpel to carefully remove the chip and antenna but it’s extremely delicate and unlikely to survive being moved into a mobile.

Due to time restraints I haven’t really done much research into the Oyster card but at a glance it appears to be a Mifare Standard card. If they haven’t modified the standard at all then it might be possible to buy a smaller button-style tag and get an understanding TFL employee to add you to the system.

…and since I always get asked this question: No, you can’t get an Oyster card implant, the frequencies it uses don’t travel through skin very well 🙁

RIGHT!!!… if you’re looking at the front of the card the chip is located in the dark blue area on the RIGHT!.

…this is why I didn’t choose bomb disposal as a career!

Full info on this is a press release at

Including the gem that “They will also be able to top up their Oyster by touching their handset on Oyster ticket machines in tube stations or at Oyster ticket stops.” So just like a normal Oyster card then, so what exactly is the point of doing the integration into a phone? I currently have my Oyster in my wallet, which like my phone goes everywhere with me and that isn’t goint to change. Having an Oyster Watch, Keyfob or Shoes makes as much sense.

Chiltern Railways are currently trialling a system for selling rail tickets directly from the phone using a secure Java app for debit/credit card payment ( Why they couldn’t adopt something like this to allow you to top up your Oyster from your phone without visiting a machine or shop I don’t know……

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