Are Contactless Smart Cities Around the Corner? NXP Thinks So

June 03, 2020 by Gary Elinoff

COVID-19 has accelerated the push for contactless smart cities. Now, a new IC shows that security and speed are at the heart of such technology.

There's been a lot of noise lately about the technologies that will spiral out of the COVID-19 pandemic—from thermal temperature-monitoring cameras at airports to a robot that enforces social distancing and mask-wearing.

But what would it look like if these technologies were to become a staple in city life? NXP suggests that contactless smart cities are the future, especially as people are increasingly conscious of the disease transmission that can occur when many hands pass over the same screen.

NXP labels itself as a leader in this move toward zero-contact smart cities with its MIFARE portfolio, which includes a number of ICs and cloud solutions for electronic identification, secure payments, transportation tickets, access cards for facilities, and RFID and NFC technologies in retail, among others applications.

The most recent addition to this portfolio is the DESFire EV3 IC, which is Common Criteria EAL5+ security certified—the same level of protection required of electronic passports or ATM cards.



MIFARE DESFire EV3 IC embedded in a smart card. Image used courtesy of NXP


The new IC is aimed at the contactless proximity transaction market. When used in conjunction with NXP's AppXpplorer cloud service, it can form the basis of a single card to access all smart city services, which might include access to city services, car- or bike-sharing, and public transportation.

A closer look at the specs of this new IC and its sister products in the MIFARE portfolio can tell us a great deal about what's going on at the hardware level in a touch-free smart city. 


MIFARE for Secure Access, Payment, Transport 

MIFARE devices are geared toward RF-enabled proximity and contactless smart cards. The new IC is not only backward compatible with previous family members but is also a direct drop-in replacement for earlier iterations of the IC: the MIFARE DESFire EV2, MIFARE DESFire EV1, and the MIFARE DESFire D40. 


ICs in keycards can secure enterprises, hotels, campuses, amusement parks, or stadiums

ICs in keycards can secure enterprises, hotels, campuses, amusement parks, or stadiums. Image used courtesy of NXP

NXP says MIFARE ICs and cloud products support major components in the evolution of smart cities, including public transport, hospitality, loyalty, and micropayment installations worldwide. Aside from DESFire EV3, the portfolio also includes:

  • MIFARE Classic, which is compliant with ISO/IEC 14443 Type-A and is available with 1 kB and 4 kB memory
  • MIFARE Ultralight ICs for single-use tickets
  • MIFARE SAM for reader systems secure access modules (SAM) offers secure storage and communication for multi-operator infrastructures
  • MIFARE Plus eases the migration of contactless systems to the next security level
  • MIFARE 2GO cloud service digitizes traditional transit passes


An IC Purpose-Built for Smart Cities

What’s in a name? In the case of the MIFARE DESFire EV3—plenty! DES speaks to the IC’s security features, bolstered by a 3DES or AES hardware cryptographic engine. The first three letters of FIRE stand for fast, innovative, and reliable. The fourth letter (a bit of a stretch) refers to secure. 



Block diagram for the MIFARE DESFire EV3 contactless multi-application IC. Image used courtesy of NXP



The IC's data transfer rate is up to 848 kbit/s. An important point for fast-changing networks, applications based on the MIFARE DESFire EV3 supports remote updates to deployed cards via NFC-enabled smartphones. 

The press release explains that to simplify deployment, NXP preconfigured each DESFire EV3 IC with keys "to enable delegated application management, which supports seamless, over-the-air updates to already deployed smart cards using NFC-enabled smartphones."



NXP says the device has up to 8 kB of non-volatile memory, supporting as many applications as memory size allows. The chips have a data retention duration of 25 years and a write endurance of 1,000,000 cycles.



The unit’s operations are based on global open standards for air interface and cryptographic methods. Its RF interface is compliant to all levels of ISO/IEC 14443A and it supports optional ISO/IEC7816-4 commands (APDU and file structure supported). 



The IC is said to offer a unique 7-byte serial number in addition to a choice of open DES, 2K3DES, 3K3DES, and AES crypto algorithms. The device includes a card-generated message authentication code and a transaction timer. This latter feature guards against man-in-the-middle attacks during a transaction.


NXP says the IC designed for secure transactions

NXP says the IC designed for secure transactions. Image used courtesy of NXP

The IC also has something called a Secure Unique NFC, abbreviated SUN, which generates a crypto-secure URL and unique authentication message whenever a phone, card, or ticket is "tapped" in a smart city. This secured message and URL is then sent to a server to be verified, making each tap unclonable. 


Paving the Way for Extended Smart City Services

Philippe Dubois, NXP's VP and general manager of IoT security, secure mobility, and retail explains why this new IC is a valuable move in progressing smart cities: “With the launch of MIFARE DESFire EV3, NXP is laying the foundation for a new level of connected smart city services that are form-factor independent and can be available on a traditional smart card or mobile device.”

Dubois feels that the IC's security features block fraud and theft, extending its applications beyond transit and access control. "NXP is proud to empower society with our contactless solutions for broad-scale use, as the worldwide impact of COVID-19 makes contact-free transactions a necessity," he concludes.

NXP claims that they offer a one-stop shop for designers' smart city access and connectivity needs. End-users will appreciate that many of their needs can be met with one card. And most importantly, in light of the current pandemic, that one card never needs to touch a foreign surface, eliminating the possibility of contact with COVID-19 or any other virus.