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Near field communication 101

Near field communication (NFC) is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few centimetres. Present and anticipated applications include contactless transactions, data exchange, and simplified setup of more complex communications such as Wi-Fi. Communication is also possible between an NFC device and an unpowered NFC chip, called a “tag”.

NFC devices share a core technology with RFID tags, contactless payment cards and inductive-coupling. In the words of the NFC Forum, “loosely coupled inductive circuits share power and data over a distance of a few centimeters.”

According to the Forum, NFC can operate in three modes:

  • Reader/writer mode: A reader/writer can collect and write information on a smart tag. “The tag is essentially an integrated circuit containing data, connected to an antenna,” explains a white paper from NFC-developer Innovision.
  • Peer-to-peer mode: Two NFC devices can exchange data between each other.
  • Card emulation mode: An NFC device appears to a reader like a contactless payment card or contactless transportation card.

What Can NFC Be Used For?

  • Transportation: NFC works with most contactless smart cards and readers, meaning it can easily be integrated into the public transit payment systems in cities that already use a smart card swipe.
  • Ease of Use: Unlike Bluetooth, NFC-enabled devices don’t have to be set up to work with each other. They can be connected with a tap. If NFC-enabled phones become prevalent, you’ll likely be able to initiate a two-player game by touching two phones together. You’ll be able to link a headset to your phone or print a photo just by touching your device to a printer.
  • Smart Objects: NFC can have similar applications as bar codes do now. You can put one on a poster and let pedestrians scan it on their phones for more information. But being able to add more information to any object by integrating a tag has led to some interesting applications that go far beyond billboards. A company called Objecs, for instance, sells an NFC tablet for gravestones. Touching an NFC-enabled phone to the Personal Rosetta Stone provides additional information about the deceased.
  • Social Media: Before Foursquare took off, a German company called Servtag was working toward a similar concept for NFC-enabled phones called Friendticker. The company applied more than 250 NFC-tag stickers at various locations in Berlin that users would swipe their phones past in order to alert their friends that they were “checked in” at that location.
  • Mobile payments: In the news, NFC is most often discussed in relation to mobile payments or “the digital wallet.” Unlike many other wireless technologies, NFC has a short range of about 1.5 inches. This makes it a good choice for secure transactions, such as contactless credit card payments. Credit card companies, mobile network providers and startups are all gunning for the opportunity to facilitate digital transactions when NFC-enabled phones become widely available.

Sources: Mashable, Wikipedia, NFC Forum

 

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