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What is NFC? Everything you need to know

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NFC is an acronym for Near Field Communication. It uses short-range radio waves to share and receive data wirelessly between an NFC reader and an NFC tag.

An NFC chip is small and must be embedded in a carrier. Manufacturers use different carriers, including cards, key fobs, wristbands, phones, and bracelets.

Whenever the NFC tag comes close to a reader (approximately 4 inches), it is excited by its magnetic waves. This results in data release in form of signals. If you’re still not sure how NFC works, then this article is for you. Read on.  

A Brief History of NFC

NFC Technology was developed in the early 2000s by Sony and Philips. It is based on radio-frequency identification (RFID), a similar technology that has been used for decades to identify objects, such as pets or warehouse stock, using radio waves.

NFC uses what is called “near field” communication because it only works when the communicating devices are very close together — no more than a few inches apart.

Different types of NFC devices include contactless tags, cards, key fobs, stickers, and smartphones. The two main standards used by NFC are called “NFC-A” (for Android) and “NFC-B” (for BlackBerry). Besides type A and type B, several other types of NFC technology exist. They include NFC-FeliCa and NFC-V. 

The difference among these types is in the communication speed and the range, but all of them use radio waves to communicate. They also may differ slightly on the method applied for data storage and exchange. 

Components of NFC Technology System

There are 3 main components of this technology:

  • Reader or Initiator
  • Writer or Target
  • Card or Tags

The Initiator is the NFC reader, it will read and write information to the target. It converts radio waves into digital bits and vice versa by emitting its electromagnetic field and receiving incoming waves from another device.

The writer or target receives commands from an initiator and stores the data in a secure key that is only accessible to the target. This ensures that data can’t be stolen or modified.

An NFC chip is embedded into a card/tag, which allows users to access applications or send data with a simple touch of their smartphone on another NFC-enabled device (e.g., door, ticket). By using this technology, the smartphone can read and write data by using NFC tags.

NFC tags look like tiny stickers and can store both large and small amounts of information. Examples of information that can be stored include such as product details, log-in credentials, website URLs, and contact information.

How Does NFC Work? A Detailed Analysis

Near Field Communication (NFC) works on the principle of magnetic induction. This means that when an alternating current is passed through a wire, the wire will emit its waves of energy at right angles to the wire. These are called electromagnetic fields, and they oscillate or flow rapidly back and forth between two terminals.

An NFC chip emits radio waves at 13.56 MHz. When the waves pass over the antenna in an NFC reader, the signals are transferred wirelessly.

The transfer of information is made possible by mutual induction, where two magnetic fields work together. The device that sends out electromagnetic waves is known as an initiator, while the device that receives the waves is called a target. 

The target device will have a coil of wire, which can be recharged with energy from the other device as it absorbs electromagnetic waves. The chip inside it transmits its ID number and also receives data from the reader via radio waves.

Since both devices are wireless, they can be used to communicate with each other without having to connect via cables or wires. The communication between them is in the following format: EXECUTE_TRANSFER. This means sending data from the initiator to receive data at the target. For NFC devices to work, they must adhere to a set of standards developed by the NFC Forum as discussed below:

NFC Technology Standards 

Originally, NFC was regulated by ISO/IEC 18092 (NFCIP-1). However, the regulations were extended to include ISO/IEC 21481 (NFCIP-2). This also added ISO/IEC 15693 and ISO/IEC 14443, which guarantees a seamless use of radiofrequency communication in functions such as data exchange and logistics management.

In 2004, NXP formed a standardization group known as NFC Forum after the establishment of NFCIP-1. It also incorporated Sony Corporation and Nokia Corporation for a flawless integration of the technology on mobile devices.

The NFC forum formulated more regulations that would allow manufacturers to produce items that match the NFC Forum specifications. This guaranteed compatibility among devices, thus ensuring that both parties get optimum benefits from the technology.

Several of the NFC Forum Standards include:

  • NFC-A and NFC- B. These standards conform to the ISO/IEC 14443 regulations on contactless IC cards. It ensures that user data is protected whenever an exchange occurs.
  • NFC-F. This standard is also known as FeliCa communication technology. It was developed in compliance with JIS X 6319-4 and ISO/IEC 18092 international standards.
  • NFC-V. NFC Forum developed this standard based on the requirements of ISO/IEC 15693 wireless communication between devices.

The primary role of this standardization is to ensure the compatibility of all international communication devices. This way, users will be able to use one technology with products from another company.

Additionally, NFC is compatible with other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Passkey Entry. With these compatibility levels, users can access a wider range of functions using their NFC-enabled phones.

How Is the Information Transferred?

With NFC technology, information is transferred using electromagnetic waves. This allows devices that have low power requirements to communicate without being physically connected through cables or wires. Since this operates on a frequency of 13.56 MHz, NFC is considered a high-frequency technology.

NFC tags are small in size and are compatible with most mobile phones. The most common form factor for an NFC tag is the sticker format where it can be stuck on any surface. They are available in different shapes and sizes to suit different purposes, with some being larger than others to carry more data.

The most common NFC tag is a thin, approximately 1×1 cm sticker that can be placed on any surface such as a smartphone screen, an article of clothing, or a poster. These tags can be shared with others by simply waving your mobile device to the tag and sending the information you want to share. 

NFC stickers are made from paper or plastic and have a printed circuit on one side that contains an NFC chip, antenna, and batteries to power them. The other side is sometimes covered with a layer of adhesive for sticking it on surfaces.

Applications of NFC Technology

NFC technology enables smartphones and other devices to communicate with each other through a process called peer-to-peer data exchange.

This provides users with a new level of connectivity that can be used for transactions, ticketing, and social networking. Here’s a detailed analysis of various uses of NFC:

  • Payments

NFC payments are conducted by making a tap-and-go payment with an NFC-enabled credit or debit card. The process is simple and does not require the user to punch in any details such as CVC numbers. 

All they have to do is touch their mobile device against an NFC terminal. It will automatically detect the information stored inside the device and complete the transaction.

  • Peer-to-Peer Data Exchange

NFC peer-to-peer data exchange is used to send and receive files between devices. This type of data exchange can be configured as a share action (Android) or using an app like Android Beam (iOS). The process is simple;

Just select the file you want to send, tap the sender device against the receiver device, and wait for it to be completed.

  • Ticketing

NFC ticketing is an application that lets moviegoers gain entry into a theater by placing their mobile devices on special NFC-enabled readers at the theater’s entrance. This eliminates carrying tickets or worrying about losing them.

Additionally, the technology has been applied in managing ticketing in the public transportation sector. This improves efficacy and eliminates delays that would lead to massive losses. 

  • NFC-Enabled Passports

The U.S. Department of State launched an initiative called National Passport Card with Near Field Communication technology at the end of 2006. This initiative allows users to access their passport information via a tap-and-go device, making it easier for them to travel abroad or conduct banking transactions overseas.

Other countries are also adopting the technology for security purposes. When using NFC-enabled passports, governments can track the movements of a visitor. It eliminates the chances of criminals sneaking into the country without being noticed. 

  • Automated Hotel Processes

Many hotels and resorts have automated their check-in and check-out processes by using NFC technology. The process is simple: 

Select the device you want to use, tap it against the terminal, and follow instructions on your phone.

  • Social Networks 

It’s easier than ever before to stay in touch with friends across the world through social networking. With NFC, it is easier to listen to music with your friends or share pictures simultaneously.

Benefits of NFC Compared to Other Wireless Technologies

NFC has a lot to offer over traditional wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Here’s a comparison:

  • Proximity Connection Distance. NFC technology allows your mobile device to connect with another device at close range only (maximum distance of 10 cm). NFC does not have a range problem because it uses a peer-to-peer connection, which automatically pairs devices together at close range.
  • Connecting to Other Devices. NFC allows you to connect your phone with other devices wirelessly and transfer data between them. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi require the use of special adapters to be able to connect with other devices.
  • Ease of Use. NFC is extremely easy to use and does not require any special skills or knowledge from the user. The technology is simple enough to allow anyone to use it without much effort.

NFC vs. Bluetooth – What’s the Difference?

NFC and Bluetooth have a lot in common. They both use radio waves at close range to connect devices. However, there are some significant differences between the two technologies:

  • Range. NFC technology is very short-range, which allows it to automatically pair devices together for fast data transfer (approximately 10 cm). Bluetooth has a wider range, allowing devices to connect from a farther distance (up to 10 meters).   
  • Security. NFC is more secure than Bluetooth. Security is built into NFC technology, allowing each device to encrypt the data that it sends out. Even if hackers were able to intercept your information, they would not be able to decrypt it because of encryption.
  • Transfer Speed. The speed at which data can be transferred via Bluetooth is faster because it was not created for mobile devices. NFC devices are very limited in the amount of data they can send and receive, so NFC transfer speeds are much lower than Bluetooth.   
  • Operating Frequency. NFC uses 13.56 MHz while Bluetooth uses 2.45 GHz to operate. This means that NFC can send and receive more data at a faster rate, which makes it the better choice for mobile devices.

Platforms that Support NFC

NFC has been gaining momentum in both the United States and around the world, with major companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony all working on integrating it into their devices. Today, most Android phones support NFC technology for fast data transfer between different devices. iPhone users will be happy to know that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus support NFC.

NFC can also be found in many modern smartcards, bank cards, passports, transit cards, mobile phones, laptops, and other consumer electronics devices.

NFC’s Future Potential

Since smartphones are becoming a common household item, NFC will likely continue to be integrated into them. This integration will eventually lead to NFC being used as a form of faster payment at stores, restaurants, and virtually everywhere.

In the future, there is also a chance that NFC could be used for more serious applications such as making electronic payments without the use of credit cards. Aside from security concerns, this could revolutionize the way we carry out transactions in society.

Currently, there are millions of POS terminals that have integrated NFC. Currently, there are millions of POS terminals that have integrated NFC. It is predicted that there will be more than 1.4 billion NFC-enabled smartphones in the next five years. 

Going by these statistics, you can be sure that the future of NFC is bright. More and more people will adopt the technology and it’ll become more widespread and used in society.

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