Host Card Emulation (HCE) is the software architecture that provides exact virtual representation of various electronic identity (access, transit and banking) cards using only software. Prior to the HCE architecture, near field communication (NFC) transactions were mainly carried out using secure elements.
HCE enables mobile applications running on supported operating systems to offer payment card and access card solutions independently of third parties while leveraging cryptographic processes traditionally used by hardware-based secure elements without the need for a physical secure element. This technology enables the merchants to offer payment cards solutions more easily through mobile closed-loop contactless payment solutions, offers real-time distribution of payment cards and allows for an easy deployment scenario that does not require changes to the software inside payment terminals. Some HCE enabled devices with NFC have the ability emulate MIFARE cards, as well as NXP NTAG’s.
Since the release of Android 4.4, Google has implemented HCE within the Android operating system. Google introduced platform support for secure NFC-based transactions through Host Card Emulation (HCE), for payments, loyalty programs, card access, transit passes, and other custom services. In order to use HCE on an Android device it must have NFC capability and the NFC must support HCE. As of July 2020, Host Card Emulation is not support on the Apple iPhone.