Super-Rugged Sonim Phones Break NFC Rules
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Sonim was one of the first companies to introduce a Near-Field Communications-enabled (NFC) phone in Australia, but has shifted the popular paradigm from contactless payment to a bit of pioneering in heavy industry.
NFC technology is slowly creeping onto smartphones around the world, widely spruiked as the future of contactless payments like you see on MasterCard and Visa credit cards.

Rugged phone maker Sonim has flipped the formula and put the NFC chip reader on the phone, reversing the process for applications in large-scale enterprise operations.

A Sonim phone with an NFC reader module

Tom Mulvenna, Sonim’s General Manager for Asia Pacific, explained the applications for a security firm, where a guard could check-in at certain intervals at cheap NFC tags posted across a site, registering their presence with a supervisor, for instance.

Sonim currently has deals with a handful of multinational security and cleaning companies, but has recently been pushing for the same deals in Australia.

Mulvenna has been working with major enterprise, telecoms and the distribution channel in Australia to push the scope of currently small-scale Sonim sales.

While aimed particularly at industry, Sonim is set to release one of its consumer-oriented models in an unnamed major consumer electronics retailer this year, according to Mulvenna. The most likely model to be released is a $499 mid-ranger in the Sonim series.

The company’s own research has targeted a generous 10 percent of Australians, made up of workers in security, construction, oil/gas, utilities and transport.

Sonim has a small footprint in Australia at 25,000 units, compared with a global presence of 800,000 units. The company has been selling in Australia for the last three years after first introducing its rugged phones worldwide in 2005.


It has introduced its interchangeable module system across its range, where any model phone can swap the backing unit over for a different application. One option is the NFC reader, but other options include a fingerprint scanner, currently used by one of Sonim’s Asian clients.

Sonim has a tough time spruiking its rugged phones to consumers while tough-covers continually crop up for smartphones, but the units have some very distinct advantages for the tradie consumer market.

With a max of 80 hours potential talk time, a three year warranty and being one of the only (if not the only company) to feature petro-chemical approval for use around oil and gas, the company’s bulky phones are built tougher and more efficient that most. The large battery and larger than average inner-antennae also push up signal strength, says Mulvenna.

The phones also include customisable safety features for riskier workplaces. The in-built accelerometer can be configured to trigger an emergency call if dropped from a certain distance. If a utility worker were to fall off an electric pole, for example, the phone could send out an emergency call and relay the call to the injured worker over the 100 decibel speaker to call for help.