NFC: Safe Near Field Communication with many possible applications

Cash-free payments by smartphone, electronic access controls, data exchange between smartphones or tablets. These are just some of the examples of the varied application of NFC. In this article, we are introducing the still very new technology, weighing up the pros and cons, presenting examples of application and delivering a future forecast for NFC technology.

The facts:

  • NFC stands for Near Field Communication, a standardized wireless standard for wireless and cable-free communication.
  • This technology uses induction at a frequency of 13.56 MHz – similar to RFID, which Near Field Communication is based on.
  • NFC enables contactless communication (or, more precisely: data transmission) between two devices or one device and an NFC tag over short range. And short range is to be taken literally, as the distance between devices should not be greater than ten centimeters or the transmission will not work.
  • At 424 KByte/s, the data transmission rate is slower than with related technologies such as Bluetooth or WLAN. It is, however, sufficient for exchanging small data volumes such as links, contact data or digital authentications in a split second.
  • On the other hand, establishing connection is significantly faster compared with other technologies. For example, two NFC enabled devices require only a tenth of a second to establish the initial communication connection.

Because of its very short range, NFC is very secure

This technology, promoted by Sony and Philips since 2002, uses the short range to its full advantage. NFC is extremely secure against external interception. Potential offenders would basically have to be at such close quarters to intercept the wireless signal. Unwanted spying is therefore significantly impeded. It is another story when it comes to WLAN-based transmission technologies. They send the data into the surrounding area thereby scattering the information.


Intuitive, bidirectional and interoperable

In comparison with other transmission standards, NFC holds yet more advantages:

  • NFC applications and transmissions are mostly intuitive to operate: If you are simply holding an NFC-enabled device, such as a Smartphone, close to another NFC device or an NFC tag, data transmission starts automatically or after simple confirmation. There is no longer the need to connect the two devices and the relevant data is basically exchanged on the go.
  • This transmission can take place either uni-directionally or bi-directionally: In contrast to RFID systems, NFC is designed so that both participants can send (in active mode) and receive (in passive mode). This means that NFC has no clearly defined role allocation. Each device can be both sender and receiver. In the case of RFID, the receiver always remains passive.
  • As NFC can be connected to most existing data transmission technologies, this technology convinces with its interoperability.

The smartphone becomes a virtual wallet.

Most current smartphones are NFC enabled. This opens up a multitude of application possibilities: As well as simple data exchange between devices (contact data, music, photos), cashless payment is another special feature. The discount store, Aldi Nord, has recently started offering this option. To pay for their shopping, the customers simply have to hold up their smartphones to the cash terminal.

Smartphone manufacturers have also discovered this topic for themselves. Apple, for example, is offering its own payment platform with Apple Pay.


How will NFC look in the future?

The Center for Near Field Communication Management (at the Leibniz University, Hannover, link: http://www.cnm.uni-hannover.de) is predicting an increasing distribution of NFC: "2015 will lead to a noticeable increase in the subject of NFC in Germany. Mobile internet via smartphones and tablets is becoming increasingly important. As a result, everyday mobile end devices are making an ever increasing appearance, both quantitatively and, with NFC, also qualitatively". As a "killer application" in the NFC ecosystem, mobile payment is available here too.

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