August 1, 2014
An Israeli startup, Pronto.ly, is working on a technology that involves the use of high-pitched soundwaves to establish a contactless connection between two devices. It is being portrayed as an alternative to NFC.
The technology requires only that the devices be embedded with a built-in microphone and speakers. No actual data transfer is involved; the technology simply uses ultrasound to identify and authenticate devices within proximity. The data transfer between the devices can then take place through cloud-based backend technology.
The Prontoly solution leverages pre-existing device hardware, namely standard microphone and speaker, says Nick Pappo, co-founder and CEO of Pronto.ly. With that we employ a time-based one-time password (TOTP) handshake between devices on the client level which is then correlated via our authentication server. These TOTPs are the only thing exchanged over the ultrasonic sound wavelength (encrypted of course); no identifying or transaction data is ever transmitted via this medium. Once we have authenticated a transaction request between devices, we push to clearance via the application selected processor.
The company has also filed patents related to the technology with respect to ultrasound signal patterns. Specific signal patterns would enable it to work in noisy environments and avoid interference with other wireless technologies. The company aims for the ultrasound system to be platform- and device-agnostic and work on multiple mobile OSes. The company is also providing support for third-party developers by providing dedicated SDKs.
Pronto.ly has raised $600,000 through pre-seed and seed funding and has been working on the technology since 2012. The company is trialing the technology in use-cases, such as for contactless ATMs, P2P payments and e-commerce checkout processes. It is also looking at business models to monetize the technology. One scenario could be charging a fee per transaction made using the technology. The company’s initial goal is to collaborate with big financial players.
NFC has seen both support and skepticism within the industry. Even Apple, one of the biggest smartphone makers, has been reluctant to adopt the technology. A couple of factors working against NFC could be the need for dedicated chip hardware and the need for a large customer base to make it useful enough. NFC-enabled services such as payments have been hampered, and there has been no massive adoption on a significant scale.
The ultrasound technology can pose a threat to technologies such as NFC if it picks up significant pace in the industry early on.