ARM inks secure mobile payment joint venture

by Allan Swann| 03 April 2012

British semiconductor designer announces joint venture with security standards firms Gemalto and Gieseke & Devrient.

The Cambridge based ARM Holdings is famously behind the ARM processor, which powers almost every mobile device on the planet.

Gieseke & Devrient is known for its work with contactless payment chips, such as NFC (near field communications) and its recent work with Apple on nano-SIMs.

Gemalto works in software security standards.

The proposed standard will be built around ARM's existing TrustZone hardware, which is in every ARM Cortex-A series processor. Trustzone secures peripherals such as secure memory, crypto blocks, keyboard and the screen to ensure they can be protected from software attacks.

The intention is to create a water tight back end, running across hardware and software which ARM is calling a 'trusted execution environment' (TEE). ARM claims TEE will enable smart devices more secure access to mobile payment, enterprise productivity and mobile banking applications, as well as online commerce and premium content services.

Most importantly, ARM is hoping to speed up what has quickly become an industry wide stagnation - the battle over mobile payment standards.

"The integration of the hardware, software and services necessary for system-wide security has been slow," said Warren East, ARM's CEO.

"I am confident that this new joint venture will accelerate the adoption of a common security standard, enabling a vibrant ecosystem of secure service providers to emerge. This will be a significant step in terms of improved consumer trust in secure transactions on connected devices."

This standard will also be available to non-mobile devices, such as smart TVs and games consoles, the chip designer said.

While ARM remains dominant with more than 90% marketshare on these smaller, less power intensive devices, the world's largest chipmaker, Intel has been working hard on its new Atom chips. It has been playing catch-up and wants to get the new Atom into as many smartphones as possible. Intel, like ARM, has been looking at other industries, such as smart TVs and 'internet of things' markets.

The internet of things refers to devices such as internet connected fridges, lights and heating systems, that would allow users to control appliances through their smartphones.

All three companies will contribute assets to the new venture, including patents, software, people, cash and capital equipment. ARM will own 40% of the joint venture, with Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient each owning 30%. The JV is still subject to regulator approval from the European Commission.

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