Near-Field Communications

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Near Field Communication, or NFC is a technology which facilitates transmitting data and power over a short range. It is an industry standard with a wide variety of uses. Some of these include data sharing and mobile payments. Although NFC only works in close proximity (~4cm)[1], it is compatible with many other technologies as it was partially developed from Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. As such, it is backwards compatible with RFID in addition to the Japanese FELica system. Furthermore, all current contact-less payment systems are technologically supported by NFC. The actual support of contact-less payments with NFC remains a vendor related matter. Credit card providers such as MasterCard provide support for the technology with their contact-less readers. VISA has also announced initiatives[2] for supporting NFC in 2012. Vendor support for consumers and infrastructure is strong. NFC has over 140 global supporters from companies such as Nokia, NTT DoCoMo and Microsoft.



Wireless communication and power transmission are the two fundamental technologies on which NFC is built. These two technologies have a history dating back to the late 19th century. Nikola Tesla demonstrated the possibilities of wireless power in 1891[3] which in part led to the invention of modern radios. Canadian Reginald Fessenden is credited with the first radio broadcast in December 1900[4]. Near Field Communication as it is known and used today is based on RFID. Although RFID allows for ease of data transmission, the technology only works one way.

Highlights in NFC

  • 2002 NFC is introduced by NXP SemiConductors and Sony
  • 2004 The NFC forum is founded by Nokia, Phillips and Sony to raise awareness and support for the technology
  • 2006 Nokia release the first NFC enabled phone: The Nokia 6131[5]
  • 2009 The NFC forum introduces peer to peer (p2p) communication for NFC enabled devices[6]
  • 2010 Samsung Nexus S: The first Android powered NFC mobile phone is released[7]
  • 2011 Google increases support for NFC: Demonstrates NFC's possible uses at Google I/O [8]
  • 2011 Google announces trial mobile payment options with Google Wallet[9]
  • 2011 Mobile Chipset vendor Qualcomm[10] integrates NFC circuitry into flagship silicon[11]

Technology Overview

NFC is a secure technology used to transfer data between two devices. Devices which support NFC can be classified into two categories: Passive and Active. Passive devices include NFC stickers and tags embedded into posters. Active devices are those which are self-powered.

How it Works

NFC operates in an unlicensed band of the frequency band at 13.56MHz. The basic requirement for NFC communication is such that at least one of the two devices must have an NFC writer or reader, while the other can be an NFC tag. A generic NFC transaction is outlined below.

1) The user brings their NFC enabled device to close proximity with the target

2) The user starts an application on their device to initiate the connection

3) The device is now broadcasting a radio and magnetic field

4) The target responds when it detects the radio and magnetic field

The process repeats again between steps 3 and 4 for any further transactions within the session. Of course, the process may differ slightly depending on which use case is in question. NFC transactions support three general use cases:

Contact-less Card Emulation

Passive Initiator, Active Target

In this operating mode, the active target is responsible for providing power to the initiator. The target is in a 'listening mode' and constantly waits for possible initiators. Once an initiator is within range, the initiator's NFC circuitry is illuminated (powered up). Then the initiator can broadcast commands and start the communication process with the target.

Contact-less Reader

Active Initiator, Passive Target

This operating mode is the most common of all three usage models. It is used when the initiator is requesting information and is responsible for powering the target. The user places the active initiator close to the passive target. The target's NFC circuitry is powered by the close proximity of the initiator and the target broadcasts its information wirelessly.

Peer to Peer

Active Initiator, Active Target

This is the p2p mode of NFC. In this mode, no power is transferred over-the-air both devices are powered by their own source. Either device can initiate the communication and there is no actual initiator nor target in this mode. Using NFC in p2p mode is not too common as of 2011. Its only current use is to facilitate the pairing of devices so they can use other technologies such as Bluetooth.

Comparisons to Other Technologies

Bluetooth and Wifi are two other technologies which do the same. Relative to these two substitutes, NFC transfers data much slower with a peak of only 424kilobits/s [12] under ideal conditions. Furthermore, NFC can only communicate in close range of up to 4cm. Bluetooth can communicate up to 30m in its latest specification. Typical residential Wifi access points can broadcast signals even further than this. Despite losing to Bluetooth and Wifi in both bandwidth and range, it has a few unique advantages which make it attractive for use.

Initiating Transfers

Initiating data transfer sessions with both Bluetooth and Wifi requires significant user intervention. With Bluetooth, users must ensure that both devices are set up in the correct mode to initiate the session. There is very little in terms of user feedback if connectivity errors arise. For example, a mundane task such as connecting a Bluetooth enabled mouse to a computer can turn into an end user's largest headache. The same issues can arise with Wifi.

With NFC, there is no user intervention required aside from physical proximity. Even if the two devices have never communicated with each other, NFC can immediately send and receive data. The setup time is near instant.


When considering radio technology, security is always a risk. For example, it is trivial to detect a Bluetooth signal owing to its ability to broadcast a strong signal. The same can be said Wifi technology. In the least severe scenario, this could be a minor inconvenience for those who are trying to connect to other networks. However, this could lead to potential problems around unauthorized access to data, unauthorized control of devices and personal data loss.

NFC bypasses these issues as it is only capable of communication over a very small distance. If the devices are physically separated, there is no way for a third device to intercept the communication. NFC achieves its security by requiring physical proximity, whereas Bluetooth and Wifi don't even need to be within line of sight to communicate.

Current Uses

NFC for business

Gartner Hype: According to the Gartner Hype cycle for emerging technologies 2011, NFC is expected to mature to market in 5 to 10 years and is currently at its peak of expectations.


What is the NFC Forum?

The NFC Forum is a not-for-profit industry organization whose mission is to advance the use of Near Field Communication technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services, and educating the market about NFC technology. About 140 companies, many leaders in their markets, have teamed up to achieve this goal. []

How will NFC technology make business easier?

NFC technology provides simplicity and ease of use. Users hold NFC-enabled devices together to access services, interact with content, set up connections, make a payment, or present a ticket. A standards-based connectivity technology, NFC harmonizes today's diverse contactless technologies, enabling current and future solutions in areas such as:

  • Access control
  • Consumer electronics
  • Healthcare
  • Information collection and exchange
  • Loyalty and coupons
  • Payments
  • Transport

File:NFCareas.jpg [13]

As NFC technology penetrates throughout the office, we will see WLAN settings, printer IDs, and building maps picked up by NFC-enabled devices, allowing mobile workers to work in any office location.

What are the commercial drivers for NFC technology?

NFC technology makes sense for service providers and device manufacturers for many reasons.

Reduced cost of electronic issuance. Multi-issue ticketing operators, like mass transport operators or event ticketing operators, see phenomenal cost reductions in electronic ticketing. Security-sensitive airlines have already moved to "e-ticketing" in order to reduce costs.

Increased revenue from interactive services. Mobile network operators and content providers earn revenue when users choose to use value-added services. NFC surrounds the user with advertisements and valuable information within easy reach.

NFC-enabled devices drive consumption of rich media content. NFC will fuel the market for advanced personal devices that consumers use to purchase, play, store, and share rich media content.

Consumer preference for NFC-enabled services. Users may have no choice about which ticket they use for a service, but they typically can choose how they pay. Convenience is a strong differentiator and more convenient payment will drive adoption of contactless and NFC technology [14]

  • Latest NFC news [15]
  • List current and upcoming NFC Enabled Devices available [16]
  • List of current sponsors and members available [17]


"Mobile Commerce is any transaction, involving the transfer of ownership or rights to use goods and services, which is initiated and/or completed by using mobile access to computer-mediated networks with the help of an electronic device." [18]

With increase transaction speed, accuracy, and convenience, NFC expands mobile commerce opportunities. A Personal identification number (PIN) is usually only required for payments over $25 (in Canada), $100 (in Australia), and £15 (in UK).

NFC is commonly used for Micropayments (also known as Micro-transactions) which are low-value (less than $25) transactions in typically high volume.

  • Mobile payment: An NFC device may make a payment like a credit card by touching a payment terminal at checkout or a vending machine when a PIN is entered.
  • PayPal: PayPal adds NFC payments to Android app and P2P capable.
  • Google Wallet is an Android app that stores virtual versions of your credit cards for use at checkout when a PIN is used. [19]
  • Ticketing: Tap an NFC device to purchase rail, metro, airline, movie, concert, or event tickets. A PIN is required.
  • Boarding pass: A NFC device may act as a boarding pass, reducing check-in delays and staffing requirements.
  • Point of Sale: Tap a SmartPoster tag to see information, listen to an audio clip, watch a video, or see a movie trailer. [20]
  • Coupons: Tapping an NFC tag on a retail display or SmartPoster may give the user a coupon for the product.
  • Tour guide: Tap a passive NFC tag for information or an audio or video presentation at a museum, monument, or retail display (much like a QR Code)

Social Media

NFC simplifies and expands social media options, exchanging digital content, and connecting electronic devices with a touch.

  • File Sharing: Tap one NFC device to another to instantly share a contact, photo, song, application, video, game, or website link. [21]
  • Electronic business card: Tap one NFC device to another to instantly share electronic business cards or resumes.
  • Electronic money: To pay a friend, you could tap the devices and enter the amount of the payment.
  • Mobile gaming: Tap one NFC device to another to enter a multiplayer game.
  • Friend-to-friend: You could touch NFC devices together to Facebook friend each other or share a resume or to "check-in" at a location.

Other uses

  • Identify documents: NFC's short range helps keep encrypted identity documents private.
  • ID card: An NFC enabled device can also act as an encrypted student, employee, or personal ID card or medical ID card.
  • Keycard: An NFC enabled device may serve as car, house, and office keys.
  • Hotel keys: NFC hotel room keys may allow fast VIP check-in and reduce staffing requirements.
  • Car Smart key: NXP smart key allows self-diagnosis, status and service data management and more [22]


  • Visa predicts 20 million NFC cards in the UK by the end of 2011.
  • 311,000 global users and 124,000 users in the US for global wallet.
  • MasterCard survey finds that 62% ppl surveyed are open to using cell phones as mobile wallets.
  • 92 million paypass cards issued worldwide by Q1 of 2011 already.
  • By 2013, 1 in 5 (20%) of phones shipped will be NFC enabled.
  • Google said by 2014, 50% of smartphones will have NFC. [23]

Future Prospects

Wallet-less Life Style

Wallet-less life style may soon become a reality. There are many wallet related items can be stored and used on a cellular phone. Along with credit card, items such as membership card, Care card, transit pass, student ID, driver license and air mile card can all be replaced. Applying the same concept with the mobile payment, replacing other wallet related items would add an additional layer of security to prevent misuse of lost items and increase convenience of the NFC enabled phone users. As different industries start to adopt NFC technology, they may enjoy going anywhere without carrying a wallet in the coming future.

Paper-less Retailer Marketing

Other than mobile payment, retail marketing can also be revolutionized by the use of NFC technology and mobile phone. Smart posters can be used as a form of advertisement in all kinds of retail stores. As mentioned previously, NFC tag can store information and transfer the information to a NFC enabled phone. This creation significantly reduces costs associated with paper and printing and allows customers to instantly access product information. For instance, smart posters can be used to replace brochure based marketing for car dealership, expo events and tourism. Consumers no longer need to carry a pile of paper in-hand and wait for a sale representative to be available. They simply use their NFC enable phone to instantly access and store product information. In addition, smart posters can also be used as a coupon in retail stores. Customers are able to pick up promotional coupons at the entrance of a retail store through their mobile device and present the selected coupon at the check-out counter. This enhanced process will provide customers with a better, more convenience shopping experience and while promoting an environmental friendly retail environment.


NFC technology can also be utilized within the healthcare industry. Merchant 360, a NFC specialist, has worked closely with Health Portal Solutions on developing a NFC-based solution to replace the existing patient identification process[24]. This solution essentially provides healthcare providers a much faster way to check individual health care eligibility and process transactions. They plan to create either a contactless tag or an NFC application that will store individual health related information. This would allow the healthcare providers to quickly access personal information and eliminate complicated forms related processes. The stored personal information will be protected through the use of PIN.


With its potential to offer customer a smoother travel experience, NFC technology and related mobile services are attracting a lot of attention within the transportation related industry. NFC can participate in several travel processes such as in check-in, boarding and payment and ultimately increase the efficiency of each process. There are several airline companies and airports have begun trials with NFC related mobile services as well. For example, SAS Scandinavian Airlines has recently released NFC based Smart Pass for its frequent flyers[25]. The pass can be attached to a mobile phone and will allow the customer to access lounges and gate facilities. Even though SAS has not yet integrated this NFC service with NFC enabled cellular phone, this change may be a start of a revolution in Airline Industry.

Security / Access control

NFC technology can be used as a key for security access as well. Assa Abloy, a global leader in door solutions, has started a pilot program with Clarion Hotel in Stockholm allowing customers to check-in without going through the front desk process[26]. The customers will receive their room keys through emails after they complete their registration online and can access their rooms simply by downloading the keys. When they arrive at the hotel, they can directly access their rooms by waving their cellular phone near the door knob and the room will be unlocked. The same concept can apply to office environment as well. Visitors can request for door access through email before arriving at the destination and without going through the process of registering at the security desk.

Adhoc Networking & Data Exchange Facilitation

All NFC enabled phones currently in the market support some forms of data exchange. People can exchange contact information, business cards and work documents simply by tapping their phones against the others. This function not only allows instant sharing of information, but it also reduces paper wastage and promotes green environment.


Nokia, one of the NFC leading innovators, has recently released three NFC tangible games with its NFC enabled phones. Nokia uses the term "tangible" to describe the interaction between the NFC phone and the physical objects involved with the NFC games. Nokia’s intent is to create a brand new experience in mobile gaming and attempt to expand the horizon of NFC applications. Whether Nokia will succeed with the release of NFC mobile gaming is not yet to be seen.

There are several other opportunities with the adoption of NFC technology. The following videos demonstrate some possibilities that may be used in the coming future:

1. NFC for Work Collaboration
EmbedVideo was given an illegal value for the alignment parameter "Random Video Embed". Valid values are "right", "left", "center", or "auto".
2. NFC for Primary School Attendance
EmbedVideo was given an illegal value for the alignment parameter "Random Video Embed". Valid values are "right", "left", "center", or "auto".
3. NFC for Elderly
EmbedVideo was given an illegal value for the alignment parameter "Random Video Embed". Valid values are "right", "left", "center", or "auto".
4. NFC for People with Disability
EmbedVideo was given an illegal value for the alignment parameter "Random Video Embed". Valid values are "right", "left", "center", or "auto".

Mainstream Adoption

While there has been overwhelming support for NFC as a standard from hundreds of international companies such as Microsoft, Google, Sony, and Rogers,[27] the technology is still considered to be in its introduction stage with regards to its product life cycle. The majority of NFC services that are implemented today are small-scale operations or trials and the technology as a whole is facing several hurdles impeding its mainstream adoption and growth.

Similar Technologies

Several technologies exist today that perform functions and services similar to that of NFC. The fact that there are many technologies that serve the same purpose (of transmitting data wirelessly with a relatively short range) causes developers and manufacturers to be uncertain as to which should be adopted as a standard. This hesitant response from developers to new competing technologies is a main cause of NFC's slow adoption rate and mainstream introduction.

One example of such a competing technology is infrared data exchange (or IrDA), a standard for transmitting data via infrared light. Devices that come equipped with IrDA ports can transmit data to other devices up to three feet away for as long as an unobstructed line of site is maintained.[28] While IrDA is most commonly found in mobile phones, laptops, and medical equipment, it is rapidly being replaced by Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth's use of radio waves over infrared light allows for wireless data transmission over a larger distance without the need for an unobstructed line of site,[29] and allows for the creation of secure channels and networks.

The contactless smart card is one other technology that NFC must compete with upon its introduction to the market. While a contactless smart card uses radio frequency waves and microchips similar to that of NFC, its main advantage is the large infrastructure already in place supporting it. With over 45 million issued contactless smartcards and 120,000 supporting merchant locations worldwide,[30] the support for smartcards has grown to become an international standard. Because this infrastructure has already been established, banks and transit companies are cautious to support the new NFC technology mainly due to the perceived risk of NFC-enabled phones being able to mimic smartcards resulting in identity theft and fraud.[31]


Developing the necessary infrastructure to support NFC is one of the greatest challenges for mainstream adoption. While NFC-enabled devices are compatible with existing smartcard readers, it is but to a minimal extent, only allowing one-way communication. To make NFC fully accessible to consumers, new infrastructure must be established by mobile network operators, point of sale locations, and financial institutions. Mobile phone carriers must have the necessary IT infrastructure in place to control security and the flow of information.[32] The actual application software for phones and readers must also be developed to handle communication between devices. This all must then be integrated into the point of sale locations to allow for the acceptance of NFC as a new form of payment. Point of sale infrastructure includes installation of physical NFC readers to send and receive the radio frequency signals, as well as back-end applications to handle the communication between the consumer, mobile carrier, and banks. Because the implementation of such infrastructure can be costly for many retailers, one of the main barriers to entry for NFC will be successfully convincing retailers (and consumers) that it is an efficient, convenient, and secure method of payment.

Public Perception and Security

Managing the public’s perception of NFC as a new technology may be as big a challenge as building the infrastructure itself. A survey reported in the Daily Mail in May of 2011[33] found that 73 percent of the general public feel they need more education on NFC technology before they are prepared to use it. A significant percentage from the same sample also reported that they needed more reassurance that the system is secure, and some people had been put off of using contactless credit cards because of fears over fraud and identity theft. NFC is an inherently insecure technology and, without secure frequencies and applications, it is relatively easy to intercept, read, or modify the signals sent from a device.

  • Eavesdropping occurs when a third-party device receives RF signals transmitted by another device.[34] This would allow an attacker to receive data such as credit card numbers or passwords.
  • Data corruption occurs when an attacker modifies the transmitted data to deny communication such that the receiver is not able to understand the data.[35]
  • Corrupt devices and tags also pose security issues as they can aid in the spread of malicious software[36]. Attackers can replace NFC tags (in posters or in point of sale readers, for example) with infected tags. These tags can perform a number of malicious activities, including tricking users into loading websites by masking the URL.

Because communicating through NFC poses several security risks, it is of upmost importance that application developers and device providers safeguard NFC-enabled phones with strong security and authentication protocols. It will also be the responsibility of the consumer to safely use and secure their own devices with personal passwords and anti-virus software, and not roam while the NFC function on their devices is active and broadcasting. While the general public has been hesitant in adopting NFC, the technology is gaining momentum with hundreds of trials and pilots surfacing around the world. These trials, such as Canada's Zoompass,[37] Newad Posters,[38] and Ottowa's NFC parking meters,[39] will be entrusted with the job of increasing awareness of NFC and convincing consumers that the technology is convenient and secure.

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