Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Speedpassing" RFID Privacy Strategies Not Ready For Primetime

Tom Heydt-Benjamin, left, and Kevin Fu, a University of Massachusetts professor, cull information from a credit card with a card reader. Image Credit: Nancy Palmieri for The New York Times

"Speedpassing" RFID Privacy Strategies Not Ready For Primetime

At Symblogogy, we have chronicled many strategies where people would be able to pay for items with an ever gaining popular technology that is based in radio frequency detection and reading.

The neat thing about this technology is a little like being recognized at the checkout … as if you were raised with and have lived with the people who are serving you. Proximity.

It is an illusion though because the equipment they are using would be able to read ones payment information without one having to reach into ones wallet … just like being recognized by ones personal banker, or ones mother.

From cellphones, passports, and now even credit cards are being embedded with proximity RFID technology that allow personal identification and financial information to be captured without the person carrying this "technology" know that the information has been given up.

Excerpts from The New York Times -

Researchers See Privacy Pitfalls in No-Swipe Credit Cards
By JOHN SCHWARTZ - Published: October 23, 2006

AMHERST, Mass. - They call it the "Johnny Carson attack," for his comic pose as a psychic divining the contents of an envelope.

Tom Heydt-Benjamin tapped an envelope against a black plastic box connected to his computer. Within moments, the screen showed a garbled string of characters that included this: fu/kevine, along with some numbers.

Mr. Heydt-Benjamin then ripped open the envelope. Inside was a credit card, fresh from the issuing bank. The card bore the name of Kevin E. Fu, a computer science professor at the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was standing nearby. The card number and expiration date matched those numbers on the screen.

RFID pick-up/input reader system Image Credit: Dima Gavrysh/Associated Press

The demonstration revealed potential security and privacy holes in a new generation of credit cards - cards whose data is relayed by radio waves without need of a signature or physical swiping through a machine. Tens of millions of the cards have been issued, and equipment for their use is showing up at a growing number of locations, including CVS pharmacies, McDonald's restaurants and many movie theaters.

The card companies have implied through their marketing that the data is encrypted to make sure that a digital eavesdropper cannot get any intelligible information. American Express has said its cards incorporate "128-bit encryption," and J. P. Morgan Chase has said that its cards, which it calls Blink, use "the highest level of encryption allowed by the U.S. government."

But in tests on 20 cards from Visa, MasterCard and American Express, the researchers here found that the cardholder's name and other data was being transmitted without encryption and in plain text. They could skim and store the information from a card with a device the size of a couple of paperback books, which they cobbled together from readily available computer and radio components for $150.

They say they could probably make another one even smaller and cheaper: about the size of a pack of gum for less than $50.

And because the cards can be read even through a wallet or an item of clothing, the security of the information, the researchers say, is startlingly weak. "Would you be comfortable wearing your name, your credit card number and your card expiration date on your T-shirt?" Mr. Heydt-Benjamin, a graduate student, asked.

The finding comes at a time of strong suspicion among privacy advocates and consumer groups about the security of the underlying technology, called radio frequency identification, or RFID. Though the systems are designed to allow a card to be read only in close proximity, researchers have found that they can extend the distance.

The actual distance is still a matter of debate, but the claims range from several inches to many feet. And even the shortest distance could allow a would-be card skimmer to mill about in a crowded place and pull data from the wallets of passersby, or to collect data from envelopes sitting in mailboxes.

The experiment was conducted by researchers here working with RSA Labs, a part of EMC, an information management and storage company. The resulting paper, which has been submitted to a computer security conference, is the first fruit of a new consortium of industry and academic researchers financed by the National Science Foundation to study RFID.

Security experts who were not involved in the research have praised the paper, and said that they were startled by the findings. Aviel D. Rubin, a professor of computer security at Johns Hopkins University, said, "There is a certain amount of privacy that consumers expect, and I believe that credit card companies have crossed the line."

Chips like those used by the credit card companies can encrypt the data they send, but that can slow down transactions and make building and maintaining the payment networks more expensive. Other systems, including the Speedpass keychain device offered by Exxon Mobil, encrypt the transmission - though Exxon came under fire for using encryption that experts said was weak.

Though information on the cards may be transmitted in plain text, the company representatives argued, the process of making purchases with the cards involves verification procedures based on powerful encryption that make each transaction unique. Most cards, they said, actually transmit a dummy number that does not match the number embossed on the card, and that number can be used only in connection with the verification "token," or a small bit of code, that is encrypted before being sent.

Tom O'Donnell, a senior vice president at Chase, the largest issuer of the new cards, said that the attacks described in the paper would be too cumbersome in the real world. And the researchers said that other kinds of fraud, like so-called phishing scams in which criminals trick people into revealing credit card information through misleading e-mail messages and Web sites, were currently more effective.

Still, John Pescatore, vice president for Internet security at Gartner, a technology market research firm, said he was surprised by the lack of security in transmitting personal data. He said it was a mistake that companies often made in rolling out early versions of a technology.

"It's the classic 'Let's depend on security through obscurity - who's going to look?' " he said. "Then, whoops! As soon as somebody does look, you roll out the security."

All of the card companies said that they were in the process of deleting names from the stream of data transmitted to the card readers. "As a best practice, issuers are not including the cardholder name," Mr. Triplett of Visa said.

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The seriousness of breaches in security and ID privacy cannot be understated. "Security through obscurity" doesn't work in this day and age of easy access of information through the internet and the spread of identity theft schemes in our society.

This technology just may go one step too far.

Friday, October 20, 2006

RFID Applications Come Into Focus With EPC Standards Overlay

Welcome To The EPCglobal US Conference & Expo - Los Angeles Convention Center - Image Credit: Edmund Jenks

RFID Applications Come Into Focus With EPC Standards Overlay

Radio frequency identification is a pretty nifty technology. Take an antenna and some memory, power it up (active) or have it be able to be useful when activated with radio waves (passive) and one has a way to have a greater amount of identification information be attached to an item, a person, or a thing ... Then retrieve this information with proximity based readers without having to have a person to be paid to scan the information (as with barcodes and printed symbology) in order to get it to where it can be used and processed by computer programs.

"Zero human intervention!" stated Peter T. Bloch, RFID Program Director Systemedia Division - NCR.

The four steps of creating an Auto-ID or mobility application using ADC involves creating Transaction Business Objects using the more than 80 powerful functions of the platform. Then a business analyst can sequence the Business Objects into a Transaction Process. A group of Transaction Processes are placed together to create an Application and assigned to one or more users. For ADC, a user can be a human or a device, such as an RFID portal. ADC bridges the divide within Auto-ID technologies, providing a platform for intent-based data collection and pervasive data collection. Intent-based data collection ties a person to the Auto-ID process allowing the person to direct when and where data collection activities occur. Pervasive data collection is automated. As materials flow through an environment, movements are captured via RFID tags and readers and processes executed accordingly. Image Credit: NCR/IDVelocity


As with all efforts designed to help aid in the human endeavor of life, to have this technology maximize the benefit to all, standards must be applied.

Enter the Electronic Product Code (EPC), a number for uniquely identifying an item.

The adoption of this standard and its effect is a little like affixing a wide angle lens to a camera that allows a business effort to visualize, to a greater degree, what is actually happening within the distribution and delivery systems that are set up to fulfill the intended needs of the products we all use.

The application of these standards also allows those who are involved in an activity to meet needs, to think ... Globally.

The conference and expo was "a-buzz" with the anticipation of a breakthrough year in adoption and benefit realization. Truth is, this technology has been growing steadily at about 40% per year (estimated by Joe White, VP Engineering-RFID Tag Business, Symbol Technologies, Inc.) and still has a few hurdles to overcome before most business processes participate in the benefits of a RFID/EPC standard.

Symbol Technologies, Inc., The Enterprise Mobility Company, announced that it has launched the RD5000 [09/19/06], a compact, mobile Gen 2 RFID reader that can be integrated with forklifts, pallet jacks, stretch wrappers, and other material handling equipment, and utilized in various space-constrained environments. By extending the range of RFID beyond the dock door, the RD5000 mobile RFID reader provides customers with improved asset visibility in motion throughout the supply chain. Image Credit: Symbol Technologies

For example, currently, not all items are tagged with RFID tags ... let alone tags that conform to the EPCglobal standard. Then, if all items were tagged "globally", there still remains the problem of having hundreds of thousands of portable data collectors that read barcodes but cannot read RFID tags existing in the field. If the people are there anyway, why not give them the ability to capture the RFID data?

"Upgrade them!" says Martin Payne, VP of Marketing & Strategy - Skye Tek. "Sure, upgrade the portable data collectors so that the devices can capture barcodes and RFID as well."

Skye Tek offers the SkyePlus (TM) MXH and MXU antenna multiplexers to ease integration efforts for those devices requiring multiple read-points. Both the MXH and MXU can be equipped with 4 or 8 antenna ports depending on the application requirements. Infrastructure costs are reduced by using the multiplexer to minimize the number of readers required to support multiple read-points. Image Credit: Skye Tek

Skye Tek, located near Boulder, Colorado, designs and manufacturers RFID reader modules for inclusion with other manufacturers' products. The reason Skye Tek is able to deliver an OEM hardware solution that is smaller and less expensive is because the main load of the technology is shouldered in the software approach that supports the overall RFID information capture solution that Skye Tek delivers. At a cost of inclusion of well under $500.00 per unit, an existing population upgrade can be easily justified when pitted against the information-gathering benefits realized with the addition of multi-technology read capability units working in the field.

As EPCglobal US likes to put it in their "About Us" description -

The EPCglobal Network combines Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, existing communications network infrastructure, and the Electronic Product Code-TM (a number for uniquely identifying an item) to enable accurate, cost-efficient visibility of information in the supply chain. The end result helps organizations be more efficient, flexible, and responsive to customer needs. To learn more, please visit

Excerpts from a press release submitted to Business Wire -

EPCglobal US Conference 2006 Puts the Business Value of EPC/RFID in Focus
Senior Executives from Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, and Wyeth Tell Attendees About Their Companies' Use of Electronic Product Code/Radio Frequency Identification Technology (EPC/RFID)
By Pete Settles, GS1 US - Joanne Beardslee, Elias-Savion
- Tuesday, October 17, 2006

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Senior executives representing a broad range of industries addressed 1,300 attendees at the general session of the EPCglobal US Conference 2006 today, discussing how EPC technology is already demonstrating value for their businesses and the potential it has for the future.

"Industries are increasingly turning to EPC/RFID to drive topline business growth, improve product availability, protect supply chains, and reduce supply chain costs," said Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal US, as he opened the general session.

"The more companies, industries, and trading partners that use this technology, the greater the collective benefits for every company investing in this effort," said Carolyn Walton, vice president of Wal-Mart. "Today, we truly have a realistic opportunity to achieve end-to-end supply chain visibility. We can cut our expenses. We can reduce the concerns about counterfeit products through powerful item identification and authentication. We have the means to create a safer and more secure supply chain. And most important of all - we can do a better job of taking care of our customers."

Thomas Pizzuto, director of RFID technology and strategies at Wyeth spoke about the benefits EPC/RFID brings to the pharmaceutical industry.

"Wyeth views RFID/EPC as an important enabling technology that when combined with other anti-counterfeiting technologies and systems we are implementing will help ensure patient safety and the overall security of the drug supply chain. RFID/EPC gives us the means to mass serialize our products at the item-level and to provide points downstream in the supply chain with a labor-efficient means of identifying and associating these items with their drug pedigree."

"Based on what EPC has done at Procter & Gamble, and how this technology is advancing across a broad range of industries, it is clear this is a transformational initiative," said Dick Cantwell, EPC Team Leader, Procter & Gamble. "We finally have the means to see our products move from the point of production to the point of sale and everywhere in between. Ultimate accuracy, unmatched visibility, real supply chain safety and security - these are no longer things that companies can only imagine. We can achieve them and transform our businesses."

Reference Here>>

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Unlicensed Radio Frequencies Gain Space In Technology Shift

Philco Continental (1960) - Model 4370 - Danish style mahogany wood cabinet. This 21" television was the last model offered in the innovative "Predicta" series. Released to the marketplace with little advertising (due to budget constraints), consequently, few were sold. The overall series of sets had reliability problems, foremost being the specially designed 'short-neck' picture tube. Image Credit: - Copyright MZTV Museum

Unlicensed Radio Frequencies Gain Space In Technology Shift

There was a time when one wanted to implement a radio based communications strategy, one had to do a site survey to see what frequencies were being used, apply for a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and once approved, set the devices used to the specific frequency and hope that there we no conflicts with other radio based devices that might roam into ones radio space.

Pressure to open up radio communications applications and the advent of frequency hopping/threading management technology helped to open up the use of frequencies that did not require a license from the FCC.

TR-005 Panasonic "Flying Saucer" TV (1971) - Image Credit:

Fast forward twenty (or so) years and technology advances combined with FCC policies that recognize the shift in available frequencies, a new world of unlicensed frequency band applications is set to be available in 2009 when Television goes digital.

Excerpts from ARS Technica -

FCC opens up "white spaces" to consumer electronics
by Nate Anderson - ARS Technica - 10/13/2006

The FCC officially signed off on the plan to allow low-power wireless devices to operate in so-called "white spaces" in the television spectrum.
The Commission laid out a roadmap for this plan last month, but only issued the "First Report and Order" that actually authorizes it yesterday.

Here's how the scheme will work: consumer electronics devices will be allowed to operate in the portion of the TV spectrum being vacated by broadcasters as they switch to digital broadcasts in 2009, with some restrictions. Channel 37 is out - it's used by radio astronomers. Channels 52-69 are also out, since they have been allocated for public safety use. Finally, channels 14-20 might be out (the Commission has asked for more information) because 13 US cities currently use parts of that spectrum for public safety communications.

Sharp 5 inch B&W Transistorized TV (1981) - Image Credit:

While manufacturers can begin to design and certify their devices in the next few months, they cannot go on sale until February 18, 2009. Even though the spectrum in question should be available after that date, the FCC is still concerned that unlicensed devices in the band might generate interference that could affect the digital TV signals, and they plan to conduct extensive internal testing (and possibly adopt more rules) to ensure that this doesn't happen.

The Commission also mandated a dynamic frequency selection mechanism be built into every device, so that it does not interfere with other devices in the immediate vicinity. It may also decide to enforce the "geo-location" rules ...
... where a professional installer (or the devices themselves) would use GPS to check the installed location against a database in order to avoid potential interference.

This was a decision that was easy for the commissioners to like. Michael Copps, one of the two Democrats on the Commission, pointed out that the US is falling behind in broadband - the International Telecommunications Union ranks us at number 15. Copps believes that opening up a new chunk of spectrum will help pave the way for wireless broadband services like WiMAX that can help bring broadband to more Americans. "Make no mistake about it," he says, "it is a very grave situation. There is simply no way that our country can remain in the forefront of the global economy without developing a broadband infrastructure that is up to the task."
"With our recent
AWS auction and the upcoming 700Mhz auction," he says, "we are opening up a huge swath of prime spectrum to licensed use - and it seems to me, on the present record, that the appropriate balance is to open up the TV white spaces to unlicensed use."

JVC Model 3100D - "Pyramid" with clock - Transistorized - Approx 7" Screen which folds down (1978)

The approach that is ultimately chosen will have a huge effect on the uses that the spectrum is put to: Just think of the success of cordless phones and WiFi, two wildly successful wireless technologies that have taken advantage of unlicensed spectrum. On the other hand, think of the interference issues that result when your 2.4GHz cordless phone rings and disconnects your WiFi - welcome to the downside of unlicensed spectrum.
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Obviously, the opening up of unlicensed frequencies for consumer electronics use opens up these "freqs" for business applications hardware as well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's Change Or Die Tryin' At NACS

Exibitors, Conference Attendees, NACS Board Members, PEI Members, and members of the Press enjoy the NACS Show Welcome Reception in Las Vegas. Image Credit: ECJ-Symblogogy

It's Change Or Die Tryin' At NACS

This week, Symblogogy is visiting the National Association of Convenience Store's (NACS) tradeshow, titled NACS Show 2006, here in Las Vegas.

The overriding theme of most exhibitors and conference speakers throughout the show is clearly settled in the unsettled territory of a constantly changing world.

One conference session featured the changes happening in our purchasing habits as reflected through the changes in the technology we carry with us every day when we leave the house ... the cellphone. This device and its impact on how we will shop were even mentioned in the Opening General Session presentation delivered by NACS Chairman of the Board, Scott Hartman.

In the case of the conference session, Robert Wesley, CEO of MobleLime, described how his company was focused on delivering mobile rewards and promotions right to your cellphone while enhancing the process of purchase payments through RFID proximity information entry ... a process clich'ed as "Speed-Passing" in reference to the Mobil Oil pay-at-the-pump process for buying gas.

In this case, Wesley highlighted the technology that was being added to a Nokia phone where the customer, at checkout, would call up a payment method file stored in the phone (Visa, Master Card, American Express, and etc.) and simply wave the phone next to a RFID sensing/pick-up device at the counter, and walk away with the goods.

Excerpts from a press release from NACS -

Dizzying Pace of Change Presents Opportunities, Challenges for Industry
Contact: Jeff Lenard - - October 9, 2006

LAS VEGAS, NV - Demand for convenience has never been stronger, and that presents both challenges and opportunities for convenience store retailers, NACS Chairman of the Board Scott Hartman told attendees in the NACS Show 2006 Opening General Session on Oct. 9.

This demand for convenience was evident over the past year, when Hartman logged well more than 100,000 miles representing NACS on what he called "basically one long study tour."

"From the operating expertise that is evident in Asia, to the mastering of senses like food aroma and lighting at the retail level in France, to the sustained excellence of retailers throughout the U.S., I have seen new ways of doing business driven by changing consumer demands, and by technology." noted Hartman, who is president of York, Penn.-based Rutter's Farm Stores.
"Time is money, and time is really what we sell," said Hartman. But convenience is what virtually every other channel is now trying to replicate, he noted.

Above all, the fresh and healthy image is key to today's customer, noted Hartman. "All over the globe the fresh presentation is the first thing customers are seeing as they enter stores, especially in Europe ."

Customers also expect what Hartman called "mass customization" - companies gaining efficiencies by making products in volume, but allowing the individual to customize products to their own needs. And they want their lives simplified, a trend that is evident in Asia .

"Clearly, technology will play an ever-increasing role at our stores. And it already is in Asia . The cell phone you have today acts nothing like the ones they are using in Japan and Korea . But you will soon see them here," said Hartman, noting that they already serve a customers' electronic wallet, personal scanner and personal navigation system and locator.

Cell Phones, Cell Phones, Cell Phones. Image Credit: Yahoo! News

"Customers will receive offers on their phones, redeem electronic coupons with their phones and Web applications will allow them to find the lowest priced products between them and their next destination," said Hartman. "As retailers we will market our gas prices to customers as they drive down the highway and customers will have their cars programmed to seek out food offers they prefer. The in-car convenience store billboard is closer than you think."

"NACS is doing much more that looking at the future of technology in our industry; it is helping to shape it." said Hartman.

"At NACS, we believe that technology is an investment, that if you make it wisely, it should yield a competitive advantage." said Hartman. "The technology building blocks that we've been putting in place must continue at the store level, and through the involvement of NACS and PCATS, they will make a difference in your operations."
Hartman concluded by reminding retailers to stay true to their mission, despite the dizzying pace of change, which will only intensify.

"Only those that seek change, and embrace change will thrive. But let me also offer some caution. Know your competition, but know yourself even better. Seek to change, but don't change because of the competition. Competitors, after all, will come, and competitors will go. Put your real focus on your customer. Study them. Engage them. Learn from them. Change for them." said Hartman.

"Lastly, give back to your customers, your communities and your people any way you can. You'll get back more than you ever gave," said Hartman. "That has certainly been my experience in my own business ... and in serving as your chairman this past year."

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The NACS Show 2007 will take place November 6 to 9 in Atlanta, Georgia .

The NACS Show is ranked one of the 50 largest annual tradeshows in the U.S. The NACS Show 2006, which runs through Wednesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, features the largest exposition ever at a NACS Show, with 380,000 net square feet of exhibit space.

NACS is an international trade association representing more than 2,200 retail and 1,800 supplier members. The U.S. convenience store industry, with over 140,600 stores across the country, posted $495.3 billion in total sales in 2005, with $344.2 billion in motor fuels sales.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Movie Tickets For The 21st Century "Mobility" World

MBO is proud to be launching at Emagine Theaters as they always seek to provide you the best experience in theater entertainment. That is why they are the first in offering you the convenience of MBO (trademark). The future is in your hands... Stay Tuned! Image Credit: Mobile Box Office

Movie Tickets For The 21st Century "Mobility" World

There was a time one had to go to the theater and stand in line to buy a ticket to see a movie.

Then along came the era where virtually every home had a computer where one would log-on, buy a ticket, go to theater and find the kiosk that one could retrieve the ticket with the insertion of a credit card. There are some of us who are still just getting the hang of this process.

Well, let's get used to the future. Today, we all would feel lost without a cellphone. We feel naked if we left home and forgot to bring along our phone. What if the cellphone we carried could buy tickets via a phonecall to the theater, and then we never had to stand in any line anywhere to get a ticket? How about if one would just have to show up with the phone they purchased the ticket with ... and have the screen scanned by the usher and you're in!?

Excerpts from the Film Journal International -

By Doris Toumarkine - FJI-VNU - Sep. 21, 2006

Made in Europe and Asia, but made for America?

In yet another example of innovative entertainment products, services, amenities and ideas incubating and flourishing overseas before finding their way stateside, mobile movie ticketing (m-ticketing) that turns cell-phones into bar-coded movie tickets has just arrived. Just maybe, such ticketing - different from printing tickets on home computers or retrieving them at theatres or their kiosks - will become as American as adopted leisure imports like rock videos, neon, anime, discotheques, reality shows, wine bars and even great coffee at every corner.

At least Michigan-based Emagine Entertainment, an exhibitor that operates 46 screens in three locations, thinks so. Last January, Emagine announced an agreement for the first of their three theatres with Michigan-based MobilRelay's
Mobile Box Office (MBO), the only service that allows U.S. moviegoers to use mobile phones as tickets.

The barcode-based MBO service, initially begun for all shows at the 18-screen Emagine Canton, is now available at the 18-screen Emagine Novi Theatre. Chris Brandt, VP of operations for Emagine, expects an imminent rollout to a third venue, the ten-screen Hollywood Cinema in mid-Michigan.

MBO initiated their barcode-based software in the two theatres and, after glitches were fixed following the first rollout, the service is running smoothly. It goes something like this: All that cell-phone users need on their devices are color screens (for the color branding that MBO provides for its business customers) and web access. To order tickets to any Emagine show, filmgoers use their cells to go to MBO's website, where they order tickets and, as in ordering tickets online or over the phone, supply credit card information. Once all is approved and confirmed, customers receive a confirmation barcode on their cell display that is later read by a scanner operated by theatre personnel at the theatre's entry point. The whole point of m-ticketing is to allow filmgoers to bypass the box-office lines or the wait at kiosks. Filmgoers love the convenience; exhibitors love the extra time filmgoers have to buy concessions.

Says Emagine's Brandt, "It all works smoothly, provided the filmgoer has pulled up the appropriate screen [with the barcode]. Otherwise, it can take time for whoever's manning the scanner to find the barcode, as [cell-phone] devices or services can vary." He adds that it's important that theatre personnel be properly trained on the scanner - although the procedure is not difficult - and that these personnel are used efficiently. For instance, getting managers during off-peak to deal with the scanners can take extra time.

For maximum efficiency, Brandt says the solution is to get ushers on the scanners. And those ushers must also be savvy enough to help customers find their ticket barcodes on their phones. The variety of carriers and devices doesn't make this easier.

Brandt explains that Emagine has about 20 ushers at each theatre and, thanks to ease of use, they can all master the scanners. "The trick is to be able to get the tickets up on the cell-phone screens. Sometimes our customers need a little training in retrieving the barcodes from the website, but once it's up on their screens, it's easy. For customers to arrive at entry points with that done is so helpful. And once they've gone through the e-ticketing process smoothly, they love it. It's about convenience, the fact that they can bypass a line of people at the box office."

Color LCD screen with barcode that can be read by ushers. Image Credit: Mobile Box Office

Variety aside, even the march of technology itself can present a problem: "Because some of the newer [device] screens are so small, MBO had to switch from 12-number barcodes to ten so that they would fit," says Brandt.
Emagine works with MBO in their aggressive marketing campaign to promote the m-ticketing service. The tagline - "What can your phone do?" - is at the heart of the campaign, which involves both in-theatre advertising and outside promotions.

In-theatre, Emagine features MBO-produced m-ticketing commercials during their pre-shows. Says Brandt, "These are full-motion videos, not slide shows. There are also MBO posters in front of the box office, plus MBO has reps at the theatres Friday and Saturday nights promoting the service by handing out cards."
Predictably, the primary MBO users are young adults, not kids, aged 18 to 30, who also comprise the main filmgoing demographic. Explains Brandt, 'This more or less also mirrors the 12 to 24 year-olds, that segment of the population that uses their cell-phones for so many things, especially texting. Many seniors use cells, but they'd never dream of using MBO."

Yet m-ticketing marketers may soon be calling all seniors: Seniors, unlike many teens, have credit cards and, for now, m-ticketing requires credit card payment.

Like its users, MBO's service is young and has a way to go in terms of amassing new customers. Brandt says that the percentage of tickets sold through MBO in July was about one percent, but points out that that percentage doesn't look so weak, considering July attendance at the two MBO-powered theatres was about 175,000.

Even the entrenched online movie ticket services don't do a whole lot better. The New York Times recently reported that for the non-blockbuster films, only about five percent or less of total tickets sold are through these established online services.
In Europe, Asia and Oceania, music and sports fans have been using their mobile phones as tickets to music and sports events for several years; more recently, m-ticketing for movies has become the latest phenomenon.

As Brandt says, "Europe is light years ahead of us with this [m-ticketing] thing." Much of this overseas maturity has to do with the fact that these other markets have been way ahead of the U.S. with regard to cell-phone use and text messaging. But there are signs that the U.S. is catching up.

According to Verizon Wireless spokesperson Brenda Rainey, the carrier, one of the country's biggest, already has 54.8 million customers, with many of these responsible for the 12 billion text messages that were exchanged during the second quarter of this year. For the same quarter, 232 million picture messages were sent over Verizon.

All Verizon Wireless phones are capable of text messaging and all camera phones can send and receive picture messages, so barcodes will travel easily. And, at ten cents per text message, texting - done mostly by the young and shallow-pocketed - is cheap. Even picture messaging is only 25 cents to send or receive. And subscribers to this messaging service, mainly kids, get a deal via bundled packages, although Verizon also has a pay-as-you-go program for those who text less frequently.
But just as technology gives, it also takes a little away, especially when it comes to the challenge of different markets and different devices embracing different formats. There are several kinds of text messages used worldwide, upon which m-ticketing is dependent. These are SMS (short message service), which is actually a binary service and is the simplest. There's also MMS (multimedia sending) and the more obscure EMS. All are pushed through the Net by WAP (Wireless Application Protocol).

EMS, which stands for Enhanced Messaging Service, is an extension of SMS on several networks. A collaboration of such device manufacturers as Ericsson and Motorola, it handles messages that can be displayed as SMS transmissions. But phones that are not EMS-enabled won't be able to deliver EMS' special text formatting (such as bold or italic) or its images and sounds.
But the U.S. presents a different situation. He continues: "Carriers in the U.S. have generally chosen not to support binary SMS, so they are primarily delivering with a mix of MMS and WAP push. In Canada, it's a mix of all three. But whatever the kind of message, the user experience is very similar. A message arrives on the cell-phone, you open it, the ticket is displayed and this same ticket gets scanned for event access."

Paradoxically, as Cameron has it, the U.S. is both behind and ahead. M-ticketing may just be getting its start here, but "the U.S. is jumping beyond SMS, which is what has really caught on in Europe and Asia, and embracing MMS/WAP."
And MBO has "imagined" growing its business beyond Emagine. "We're talking to a very big national chain right now and we'll probably announce that launch in a month or two. It will be in one or two theatres in Texas and will precede a monthly rollout."
Hopefully, being an early adopter of m-ticketing will also pay off, but it's ultimately just about selling tickets, stupid! Declares Brandt, "I couldn't care less where [customers] buy tickets, as long as they buy."

Beyond short lines, long lines and online, there's that all-important bottom line. Says Brandt, hitting a metaphorical pause button as m-ticketing rages on: "Ultimately, the future of the theatre business will depend on the quality of films, no matter where the technology takes you."

Which doesn't mean a soft focus on where that might be. Brandt asserts, "I think we'll see that MBO is at the right place at the right time."

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