HCE ticketing: The smarter way to travel

What are the various advantages of going ticketless from a technology perspective?

Host Card Emulation (HCE) might not be a particularly well-known term, but if you own a smartphone and have used Android Pay, then you’ve also used HCE. The technology though, is more than a convenient, secure payment solution for use with NFC-enabled smartphones. There are numerous advantages, particularly in the field of smart ticketing that come with the technology.

The first and most obvious benefit is eliminating the need to have a physical smart card to travel with. Passengers benefit by not having to carry multiple travel cards as they can store digital tickets within the ‘virtual’ smart card stored on their mobile phone. Transport operators benefit by not having to support and pay additional costs associated with creating, provisioning and managing physical cards.

>See also: Travelling smart: the future of transportation

Convenience is key for passengers, with the ability to use an app to browse, purchase and securely download smart tickets in real time to their own device now a reality because of HCE technology. Another compelling benefit is the ability to fold in additional value-added services.

Travel alerts, ongoing journey planning, even third-party offers such as a coffee discount when you have ten minutes to spare at the station all provide a custom-tailored and improved journey experience, which could also offer additional revenue streams for operators. Finally, HCE ticketing has the potential to be the game changer for mobile ticketing as it offers a secure platform that can work with existing smart infrastructure.

What exactly is HCE?

Host Card Emulation (HCE) is the software architecture that emulates a traditional tamper resistant smart card on a mobile phone. By using HCE, a Near-Field-Communication (NFC) transaction can take place based on software (and possibly other hardware) on the mobile phone rather than a dedicated, physical smart card chip.

A virtual smart card is encoded within the mobile phone which means a consumer no longer needs to carry a physical smart card. The most common environment where this is deployed today is in payment. If you have ever used Android Pay then you have experienced a live implementation of HCE.

HCE ticketing in action

HCE in smart ticketing combines security, convenience and crucially, works on existing smart infrastructure. These benefits provide compelling reasons why it could become the technology of choice for mobile ticketing of the future. A recent report by AIC Worldwide and research firm Aite states that 14% of Brits use their phones to make payments.

Visa Europe goes further to suggest that 60% of the UK population will use mobile payments at least once a week by 2020. This clearly demonstrates that consumers are willing to replace the physical card in their pocket with a virtual card on the phone.

>See also: What does technology mean for the future of business travel?

Adding ticketing capabilities is the next logical step for HCE technology, beyond just paying for the journey. It could be used to store multiple tickets, advance-purchase seat reservations and enable the passenger to manage their own account and effectively self-serve.

The benefits of mobile ticketing are clear for both transport operators and travelers alike. In using smartphones for secure ticketing, operators can also better communicate and get to know their customers and their requirements.

In Scotland’s largest city Glasgow, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has announced that HCE technology will be piloted on the Glasgow Subway to securely load virtual smart cards onto smartphones.

A configurable HCE Ticketing App will be used to provide passengers with an interface to purchase, fulfil and manage tickets. For STP the Ticketing App enables the collection of valuable traveler data and analytics to optimise ticket offers, pricing, staffing and routes.

The future of mobile ticketing

As public transport usage grows, it is important to manage the cost of ticketing while taking advantage of new technologies to improve the customer experience.

>See also: Now even buses are redefining smart-thinking cities

Secure mobile ticketing and other disruptive technologies have the potential to help achieve this. They create a platform on which to converge ticketing services with new partnerships that could drive new revenue.

The introduction of new technologies such as HCE will influence how other aspects of a transport ecosystem will adapt. Access to a transport network, for example, could become frictionless using geolocation beacons rather than turnstiles.

Rather than tapping a phone at the turnstile it could instead be identified automatically upon entry at the station concourse, creating a truly seamless passenger experience. Host Card Emulation might not be a particularly well-known term, but it is set to play a key role in the on-going transformation of smart ticketing and retail worldwide.


Sourced from Russell McCullagh, managing director, Rambus Ticketing

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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