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“Fixing” TNG’s card top-up issue isn’t as easy as we think, M’sian software experts weigh in

When Touch ‘n Go (TNG) introduced its new, enhanced card, there was a lot of noise online about how it missed the mark. Adding to the conversation, we highlighted the issues netizens had with the card, and we received mixed reactions.

On one hand, there were those who agreed with the complaints, but there were also dissenting voices. Many pointed out the obstacles prohibiting TNG from releasing a card that could be seamlessly linked to the Touch ‘n Go eWallet, and that complaining customers were simply uninformed.

Wanting to understand the issue better, we turned to some software engineers to analyse the new card as well as peoples’ comments.

The new mechanics

The enhanced TNG card’s biggest upgrade is the implementation of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

This technology means users with NFC-enabled phones can simply hold the card near their phone and use the TNG eWallet app to process top-ups.

Image Credit: Touch ‘n Go

“I don’t see it as a bad thing to have an NFC-enabled TNG card; at least you have an option to reload it almost anytime, anywhere,” said Jason Chuah, a software engineer with five years of experience. “Just that I don’t see it to be widely beneficial as not all people have NFC-enabled smartphones.”

Mak Kwan Wuey, a full stack and Internet of Things (IoT) developer, agrees that not everyone has the technology or is even informed about what NFC is.

The lack of NFC-enabled devices aside, educating consumers on the technology is not an impossible feat, so that isn’t necessarily a major issue.

The actual obstacle

Mak broke down how TNG cards work. Essentially, they are enabled with Radio Frequency ID (RFID) technology. Thus, the cards act as simple, passive devices that store the ID and remaining card value within the card itself.

“Being a passive, smart card, terminals that accept TNG cards typically read the stored value of the cards, log down the ID upon entry and exit, calculate the duration, write the new balance back into the card, and open the boom gate for the vehicle to exit [in the scenario of a parking lot],” he explained.

The whole process does not rely on an active internet connection to the TNG server, unlike the eWallet. Not all TNG vendors have an internet connection, hence TNG has to retain the RFID system instead of storing the value on the cloud.

Jason agrees that TNG probably wants its card to not depend on internet connectivity so people can use it anywhere as long as there is a TNG card reader.

“If we want to bind the TNG card with the eWallet credit, TNG can just hop on with their existing functionality, PayDirect,” Jason supplied.

Image Credit: Touch ‘n Go

PayDirect is a feature that is supported on select tolls. With this feature, users can tap their TNG card on the terminal, and the toll fee is deducted from the eWallet balance first, then the card balance if there are insufficient funds in the eWallet.

According to Jason, TNG can work to further enhance that feature to cover terminals across the board, but hardware upgrades may be required.

Jason actually participated in a pilot programme for TNG’s RFID, where he found that there were times the fare was deducted from the eWallet only hours after passing the toll. After seeking clarification, Jason learnt that it could be due to syncing issues between the toll server and the TNG server.

“They designed the topology in a way that all transactions are stored on the toll server first, then synced with the TNG server when internet connectivity is up,” Jason interpreted. “This is to prevent hiccups where RFID users couldn’t pass through the toll because of internet connectivity issues.”

A similar technology could be implemented for card holders.

Educating the public

Jason believes users should understand that TNG cards work differently compared to debit or credit cards. Once again, it all comes down to the internet connection.

While payments using TNG cards can be done instantly by reading the card value, debit or credit cards require a stable connection for payments.

“Imagine if the internet at the toll booth is down and the server could not read your card balance from the cloud, what kind of chaos it would create,” he posited.

Mak suggested that TNG could upload a short explanation video to explain the tech and reasoning behind the system. However, he believes that the enhanced TNG was the best current option for the company in terms of rollout and cost.

TNG could also replace all terminals across Malaysia to be internet-connected, but it would be expensive. The solution to replace TNG cards for customers who desire the function of topping up cards using their phones is a safer bet, and faster to roll out too.

After all, the company isn’t forcing customers to make the switch. Those who want the NFC function simply have to pay for it, while those who aren’t willing to do so can still use their old cards.

Further enhancements?

It’s now clear that the main obstacle is internet connectivity. Since the card stores value in itself, it can’t be topped up using internet-dependent means. The NFC technology is thus the most convenient and viable option.

Over time, as internet accessibility improves in Malaysia, there is a chance that TNG could introduce a way to deduct the value from the eWallet instead of the card. But that all depends on infrastructure in Malaysia.  

“Honestly, I applaud TNG’s effort in bringing out the new card,” Mak said. “It is a non-ideal solution to a problem, but a solution nonetheless. From an engineering standpoint, it is kind of interesting to utilise both NFC and RFID to bridge between the offline and online problem.”

Admittedly, the solution would make lives more convenient for those with NFC-enabled smartphones. The enhanced card is now available for purchase via the app and participating outlets. I attempted to order one today, but the app informed me that it’s already out of stock.  

As much as netizens are complaining, it’s obvious that there is demand for this product. In any case, just make sure your phone is NFC-enabled before you make the jump to the new card.

  • Learn more about the enhanced Touch ‘n Go card here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Touch ‘n Go here.

Featured Image Credit: Touch ‘n Go

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