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NFC - Near Field Communication

The RFID technology connecting consumers worldwide

Near Field Communication (NFC) has become the standard for RFID-based consumer applications and is supported by a growing number of devices and software applications. It is estimated that over 2 billion consumers and businesses use NFC-compatible devices. All Apple mobile phones from the iPhone 6 onwards are compatible with NFC, as are Android phones from the major suppliers. All the major credit card companies use NFC and NFC-capable tablets, games consoles, smart watches and other wearable technology are commonplace.

NFC Control

How does NFC work?

NFC was developed primarily as a tool to extend the capability of mobile phones by enabling them to interact with contactless smartcards and with one another over a simple two-way communication protocol. It is a mature set of standards with a growing range of applications and supported by mobile telecoms network operators and credit card companies worldwide.

NFC standard focuses on three activities:

  • It allows a reader device to interact with a passive radio frequency device, typically a contactless smart card.
  • The reading device incorporates its own contactless smart card which it can use as part of the transaction.</span
  • It allows two reading devices to exchange data.

Examples of NFC and RFID-style applications include loading the phone with a store of travel tickets (held in the NFC device’s ‘smart card’ store) which could then be used by touching the mobile phone to NFC reader points on buses or trains. If permitted by the application, travellers can pass on tickets to others by transferring value from one phone to another. They can also top up their account by touching the phone against NFC ‘top-up’ points.

NFC can be compared to Bluetooth in that both allow an exchange of data between two devices. However NFC requires only a simple ‘touch’ to establish an exchange, rather than the pairing arrangement needed by Bluetooth. NFC only allows exchanges between two devices, compared with the more complex Bluetooth multi-device network.

NFC standards

NFC uses standards commonly found in RFID applications. The interaction of the reader and the passive device is governed by ISO/IEC 18092 & 21481, NFC incorporates a variety of existing standards including ISO/IEC 14443 Type A and Type B, and FeliCa.

NFC operates in the high-frequency RFID spectrum at 13.56MHz so it can only read tags over distances of typically a few centimetres. NFC tags should be readable by any ISO1443 compatible reader but an NFC application also needs to implement the extra standards defined by the NFC Forum, the standards body. These standards cover such areas as Data Exchange Format, Tag Types, Record Type Definitions, and protocols.

NFC supports devices operating in three modes:

  • Reader/writer mode – similar to the ISO 14443 standard.
  • Peer to peer mode, allowing two NFC devices to exchange data – covered by the ISO 18092 & 21481 standards.
  • Card emulation mode, where the device appears as a conventional smart card to an external reader.

The NFC standards definitions can be downloaded from the NFC Forum. Because interoperability is important for NFC, the NFC Forum runs a testing and certification programme that allows manufacturers to show that products conform to the NFC standards.

Growing use in business

NFC has been mainly used for consumer applications, such as sports, entertainment and travel tickets, campus-wide student identification, payments programmes and interaction with intelligent Internet of Things devices. However it is increasingly being used for business applications too.

For example, iConnect, one of CoreRFID’s partners, has produced a care monitoring system that allows care workers to check in with their clients using NFC devices. Other applications could include information kiosks, vending machines and in museums to exhibits as guides for visitors.