What Is NFC, How It Works And What Are Its Practical Applications

Everyone in the smartphone world has been talking about NFC as of late, but what exactly is it and how is it significant to you, the end user? NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is all set to change the way we exchange information while on the go. In this guide, we will go through a detailed tour of this technology and how it is going to impact our lives.

NFC is a short-range communication technology that enables devices to exchange information with other NFC-enabled devices or certain NFC supporting cards, much like the way a card reader scans and reads a credit card. This has several obvious practical applications already developed and in use in some countries, most notably Japan. Furthermore, NFC is an open standard and therefore, there is plenty of room for innovation of further applications not yet developed.

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We will now take a closer look at how NFC works, what benefit it carries over other short-range wireless communication standards, what are its practical applications and what lies in its future.

How NFC works

Before we move on to its applications, let’s take a look at how NFC works, without getting into technical details. You basically put the back of an NFC-enabled device against either the back of another NFC-enabled device or an NFC-supported card, and the device automatically recognizes it, showing a prompt on screen to read or write information to the device – it really is that simple.

Technical Specifications

NFC is an ISO 18000-3 RFID compatible short-range point-to-point communication standard governed under IEC and ISO specification 13157, amongst others. It operates on a frequency of 13.56 MHz and supports data transfer at a relatively slow rate of 424 kbps, though future improvements will most likely increase this. It has an operating range of under 20 cm and takes less than 0.2 second to establish the connection. Power consumption during reading the data is under 15 mA, though it can be more when writing data.

Benefits over other wireless communication Standards

Why use a whole new technology, one might ask, when we already have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth etc. that we can utilize for the purpose? The answer: convenience and security.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communication has a broader coverage than NFC, often ranging between 1 meter to 100 meters. This can lead to two problems. If the devices are set to accept connections without authentication, anyone within this range can connect to them and access the information stored on the other device, creating a major security issue. While this security concern can be addressed by requiring a password for establishing the connection, this leads to another problem: pairing the devices securely using Bluetooth or establishing a secure connection over Wi-Fi involves navigating through the device settings and entering passwords, which takes away the convenience factor.

NFC addresses both these issues by requiring close contact between the devices to allow information exchange, and automatically presenting the available options on the screen for the user to select. Thus, a dozen people with NFC-enabled devices can be in the same room with no password set for NFC communication, yet none of them would run the risk of any unauthorized information access via NFC.

Current Practical Applications

We have seen what NFC is about, how it works and what benefits it carries over other short-range wireless communication technologies, but what in what practical scenarios can NFC be used? There are plenty, to be sure!

- As an RFID Tag Scanner

An NFC device can act as an RFID tag scanner, reading information embedded in form of RFID tags in media such as posters, billboards, brochures, leaflets, menus and other similar promotional or informative material. An example of this would be visiting a restaurant and scanning the menu card by touching your phone or tablet to it, to be presented with the link to an interactive, animated menu on your phone, with detailed descriptions of menu items, their reviews by other users and perhaps even videos of their preparation.

- As a Debit/Credit Card Substitute

NFC makes it possible to replace your plastic money with your phone. Once the information that is usually carried in your credit card has been stored in your phone and made accessible via NFC, you can simply touch your phone to a terminal the way you scan your credit card, and make payments accordingly. This can make mobile ticketing and payments a breeze.

- For Data Exchange

Two NFC-enabled phones can be made to exchange data after establishing a connection by bringing them within NFC’s operation range. This can replace visiting cards, as you’ll only need to touch your phone to that of someone else and your virtual business card can then be transferred to their device with one tap on the screen. Sharing photos and other media on your phone with others gets similarly easy.


- For Bluetooth Pairing or WiFi Authentication

Pairing two Bluetooth devices to establish a connection involves navigating menus to enable Bluetooth, scan for a device, initiate pairing and enter the pass code on each device. With NFC, you will just need to bring the devices together to be automatically prompted to initiate Bluetooth pairing by a tap on each screen. The same can also apply to establishing a secure Wi-Fi connection.

Future Prospects

Apart from the above-mentioned applications of NFC which are already implemented and in use in certain regions of the world, the future prospects of this communication standard are also bright. Let’s take a look at some of the ways NFC is bound to play a part in our lives in the years to come.

- Personal Payments

In the not-too-distant future, NFC will enable you to give your daughter her pocket money simply by touching your smartphone to hers, choosing to transfer money and selecting an amount, which she can spend by using her phone as her debit/credit card substitute at the café, as explained above.

- Keyless Security

Your NFC-enabled mobile device will act as the key to the locks on your car, your safe and your house. Though to ensure no one else can use your phone to gain access, NFC will only act as initiating the unlocking mechanism, which will have to be verified by facial, iris or retina recognition by your phone’s camera, voice recognition by its microphone, fingerprint scan by its touch screen or a combination of these. The result would be secure, keyless access to your vehicles, safes, workplace and dwellings.

- National, International and Corporate Identification

NFC-enabled devices will be used to store to replace your social security/national identity card, drivers license, employer card and passport, with added security measures in form of biometric scanning.

- Social Networking

People will use NFC to exchange personal information with others in social interactions, as well as form personal social networks to share location-based information such as opinions and reviews of others on a business or recreational venue. You can leave your opinion of a place at an RFID tag and other visitors can read it, as well as those left by others, with their NFC-enabled device. NFC-based check-ins at locations can also be used to reward people and offer them services accordingly.

- Entertainment

NFC will make playing multiplayer games with someone a breeze, as you will be able to initiate the game simply by bringing the devices close together.

- Health and Public Safety

Doctors will be able to use NFC to scan their patients phones for live health statistics such as pulse, blood pressure, body temperature etc., which will be gathered by the patient’s device using certain censors. Thus, without directly scanning the bodies of patients and having to keep records of hundreds of patients in their devices, doctors will have quick access to such vital statistics in order to treat them better. This can come especially handy under medical emergencies. Furthermore, patients will be able to use their devices to convey their medical situation at hospital receptions, to be more efficiently and quickly directed to the appropriate department.

Conclusion

The above mentioned scenarios are just a few examples of how NFC will change our lives for the better. With the high level of interest by corporations, NFC bring brought to Android phones by Google starting with the Nexus S, as well as involvement of individual developers and users in this short range communication standard, the possibilities are endless.

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  • LOL

    I think its stupid. I like technology, but not when it takes over our lives. Just READ the friggin paper menus. I’d hate for people to be taking out their phones and scanning menus. I also don’t plan on keeping my phone on me all the time. I’ve been reading another site where the guy makes a lot of sense. He talks about how he tries his best not to keep his phone on him and his ways of not being attached to the phone. I do not know 100% that just being around a cell phone all the time does not have negative health effects (the C word). I doubt that it does, but just in case, I will not be keeping it in my pocket more than necessary.

    Once again, technology it good, but I don’t like the idea of it being used for everything.

    • Harry

      You fool!

      • siri

        This is really good Explanation about NFC and its benefits.I hope by end of 2011 world will have heavy usage of Smart phone with NFC integrated.

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  • Med

    I will appreciate it truly when this technology reaches a frontier were a doctor analyze the vital sings and med info of their patient on the go thus to be able react faster in cases of emergency or normal rounds around the ward keeping all the info at his fingers and to be able to provide a better treatment for his patient. I am impressed by the other applications but the above mentioned is like reaching a next level in health care