Press enter to see results or esc to cancel.

Near Field Communication Explained



Near Field Communication (NFC) is an up-and-coming area of mobile technology, enabling devices to exchange data when brought into close proximity. Some have predicted that this system of information transfer will replace the older style RFID tags now present in many applications and become a much quicker and more reliable alternative to the methods already in existence today.

How it Works

NFC is a short-range wireless technology operating at a frequency of 13.56 MHz. This technology has a maximum speed of 424 kbit/s, making it one quarter as fast as the leading Bluetooth devices, and half as fast as the energy saving versions of these devices. The NFC tags aren’t powered, either, and so can’t themselves read data – they can only be read from another powered device. These tags can currently hold up to 4096 bytes of data, similar in magnitude to the storage capabilities offered by a typical QR code. NFC makes use of the magnetic field induced when two loop antennae are brought into close proximity, with the field generated by one being used to induce a field in the other and, thus, transfer information. This design feature results in the limitation of only one of the devices being able to transmit information at once, while the other device receives. This causes an obvious reduction in the rate of data transmission, but even so, the rate of data transfer is sufficiently high for most of the tag’s current or proposed applications.

Current Applications

NFC is becoming more and more common as the technology and consumer awareness improves, and the security of these systems is bolstered. Smartphones and debit cards can already use NFC for using the ‘contactless payment’ systems that are now available in many retail outlets, and many customers have reported a huge increase in the speed of making a debit card payment with this new streamlined system in place. Software such as Google Wallet allows the user to retain credit and loyalty card data on their mobile device, and pay using this device and the NFC technology embedded within. Payment processing partners are increasingly advertising their capabilities for allowing merhants to take contactless payments, as they rise in popularity.

Future Applications

Developers are already busy planning new ways to leverage this newly available technology, and many fascinating projects are currently in the works. For instance, using an NFC enabled mobile device to act as an identity tag could replace current identity card systems in many locations. By attaching NFC tags around your home and linking these to relay circuits, smartphones could be used to switch on or off lights or other household appliances without worrying about your children managing to do so by accident. This technology also opens up other exciting advances in the field of computer science, allowing you to configure your laptop or desktop computer to automatically lock when no longer in proximity to your smartphone, or allow music and photos to be instantly synced with your computer when your NFC enabled device is placed on your desk.

Advantages Over Bluetooth

Although NFC transfers data much less rapidly than Bluetooth technology and operates over a much shorter range, NFC is staggeringly more energy efficient, lending itself to applications in anything where efficient power use is of critical importance, from mobile phones to spacecraft. NFC technologies, unlike Bluetooth, don’t require pairing, which means that NFC has a much faster initial set up time compared to Bluetooth. In addition to this, the shorter range of NFC is seen by some as an advantage, since with the reduced range comes a reduced chance of interference or interception, leading to a more secure means of data transfer, which is ideal for instances such as contactless payments made via NFC.

New applications for NFC technology are being conjured up all the time, so no doubt these handy tags will have deeply embedded themselves into our lives before long. Although speed and power consumption are still potential issues with this fresh technology, it won’t take long before initial teething problems are ironed out.


Images: Flickr