NFC (Near-Field Communication) is a short range wireless communication that enables data exchange between two digital devices within close proximity to each other (usually up to 4 cm). NFC is based on RFID technology (Radio-frequency identification). NFC operates in the 13.56 MHz frequency range. Maximum data transfer rate for NFC is 424 kbit/s
NFC operates in two modes: active and passive. In active mode, both devices, the initiator and the target, require power source. An example may be two smartphones, which generate the signal on which the data is carried.
In passive mode, the initiator (e.g. smartphone) generates the electromagnetic field which supplies the target, which can be a tag or a business card with the tag.
NFC tags can take many forms. They are usually stickers or key rings with an NFC chip embedded inside. Once you hold your smartphone (or other devices that support NFC technology) close enough to the tag, data stored on the tag is sent to your phone. There are many types of NFC tags. The choice of NFC tags depends on the specific functions they are supposed to perform.
Common uses for NFC
NFC technology has found multiple various uses. First of all, it has revolutionized mobile payments. Until recently, you could only pay by cash or credit cards that you had to enter into a card terminal. Nowadays, NFC technology applied to payment cards, such as MasterCard PayPass or Visa payWave, enables contactless payments, without the need of inserting a card into a card terminal and keying a PIN.
Interestingly, due to NFC technology your mobile phone can function as a payment device (e.g. credit card). To make a payment with your mobile phone you should install a dedicated app, send money to a special account, or log in to your bank account, and finally turn your phone’s NFC feature on. It is very convenient, because you do not need to carry your wallet in your pocket. Surprisingly, it is not even necessary to remember what app you need to fire up to pay, because once you tap your phone to a terminal in the store, the purchase transaction is automatically initiated.
Despite the growth of mobile payments, many people consider the issue of security of such transactions. They are completely safe. Firstly, before initiating a payment you need to key in your PIN. Secondly, while your phone is off or in the lock screen, NFC is turned off, in other words, it is not emitting a signal at that time. Once you unlock the screen, NFC starts working. Thirdly, you can permanently turn the NFC feature off. Therefore, NFC in mobile phones has a number of effective safeguards.
There are many other uses for NFC, e.g. electronic business cards which may soon revolutionize the world of business meetings. Your mobile phone, tapped to an NFC tag, gets data (e.g. phone number, email address) from the tag, saves it to an electronic business card and places the contact on your phone’s contact list. The main advantage of electronic business cards is that they are always up-to-date. In practice, it means that any change to data (e.g. phone number) is automatically updated among all the holders of the business card. To use electronic business cards you need an app, which enables data to be transferred from the tag.
NFC and Bluetooth differ from each other. First of all, NFC operates in peer-to-peer mode while Bluetooth can communicate with many devices at the same time. The main difference can be seen in data speed and distance between devices. Both these parameters are better for Bluetooth (Bluetooth speed: 40 Mbit/s and Bluetooth distance: 10 m; NFC speed 424 Kbit/s and NFC distance: 4 cm). Apparently, it can be seen as a disadvantage of NFC. However, short range of NFC allows you to exchange data precisely with the device you selected. In addition, low speed of data transfer serves to exchange basic pieces of information, which enables to save a considerable amount of energy. Other features prove NFC’s superiority clearly. Bluetooth works only in active mode. It means that each device generates signals and thus requires its own power source. NFC can function either in active or in passive mode. The main advantage of the latter is that it does not need its own constant power source, which enables NFC devices (e.g. NFC tags) to be put in different places (e.g. on the night table, in the car smartphone holder), and there is no need to worry about power supply or battery replacement. One more advantage of NFC is its set-up time that is less than 0.1 s. Bluetooth is slower because of pairing.
Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth Smart) has slightly different technical characteristics than Bluetooth. Bluetooth Smart was originally introduced under the name Wibree by Nokia in 2006. It is an expansion of Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth Smart achieves lower energy consumption, shorter set-up time, and extended range. Due to efficient energy consumption and short set-up time, devices equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy can work for months without battery replacement. Thus it is possible to use this technology in various kinds of sensors, temperature gauges, etc., which can send data to mobile devices. It is estimated that, in 2018, more than 90% of smartphones, which support Bluetooth, will support Bluetooth Smart.
The iPhone 6 is the first Apple’s smartphone that supports NFC technology. NFC proponents waited long to use this technology on Apple’s smartphones. Have their expectations been met? Not entirely. It turns out that NFC can be used only for Apple Pay payments. Apple does not provide developers with the possibility of creating apps that use NFC. What does it mean in practice? Namely that you cannot use your iPhone 6 to program tags, read data from business cards, or configure your wireless speakers.
So the question is whether NFC will be available to all? Based on the company's history we can see that it is a popular practice to block certain functions at the beginning of their existence. An example is Bluetooth pairing problems when it comes to devices other than Apple.
Samsung was one of the main precursors of NFC-enabled smartphones. Samsung Google Nexus S appeared on the market in 2009. Since that time the vast majority of Samsung’s smartphones have used this technology.
Samsung’s other devices also include NFC feature, e.g. Samsung’s printers that support NFC printing. It allows you to print documents and photos directly from your phone, without the need of any cables.
An additional advantage is that Samsung’s devices are based on Android, so they are sure to be equipped with the latest apps using NFC such as mobile payments, electronic business cards, etc.
Sony has begun to use NFC not only on smartphones but also in TV sets. The company has introduced One Touch feature which allows you to connect your Sony Bravia TV to your phone and share content between devices. To display pictures, play a movie, play a music video from YouTube, just tap your phone to the remote and select a given action.
Moreover, this feature allows Sony’s Bluetooth-enabled devices to be paired quickly. This is a practical connection of Bluetooth and NFC features. Using NFC you do not need to search for the devices in the settings, pair the devices, type any PINs and validate them. The feature allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to headphones or speakers quickly.
Although NFC technology has already existed for over 10 years, many people either do not know the technology or think of it as a gadget. NFC can make our life easier. Below there are 5 reasons you should start using NFC.
1. City transport tickets
People using public transport know how disruptive can be to buy a ticket and then validate it. This process can be simplified. To buy and validate a ticket you just need to tap your phone to the validator. This is what SkyCash has in its offer.
2. I’ve forgotten my keys but I’ve got my smartphone
An innovative solution that uses NFC is CalypsoKey. This is a kind of handle equipped with the mechanism that uses NFC instead of traditional keys. To open the door it is enough to tap your phone (with an appropriate app) to the handle.
3. Everyday life may be simpler
NFC tags have a wide range of uses. An example can be an NFC tag placed in your car smartphone holder. If you do not want to be disturbed while driving it can help you to run GPS navigation app or mute your smartphone. An NFC tag can be also placed on your night table. Putting your smartphone on the night table, you can turn the clock on. NFC tags give you a number of opportunities.