NFC: Everything you need to know

Features Richard Goodwin 18:27, 30 Mar 2011

We take an in-depth look at Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to see what it’s all about, what it does, how it works and how long before it dominates our lives

Near Field Communication technology, or NFC as it is now affectionately known, isn’t particularly new. In fact, it’s been around for quite sometime – 2003 to be exact.

But it wasn’t until very recently (2010-11) that the technology became popular with large manufacturers such as Apple, Google and LG.

However, the thing with NFC is that, as technologies go, it’s had more false starts than a drunken 100 metre dash.

For instance, Cingular Wireless and Citibank carried out an NFC trial in New York City way back in 2006 to no avail.

But NFC is now back in vogue in 2011. And this time it’s getting backed by both Apple and Google.

So what’s changed? Not much, if we’re completely honest.

But once the salmon start swimming up stream, it’s usually difficult to stop them. And now that Google has confirmed its NFC-centric deal with MasterCard and Citigroup the ball is well and truly rolling.

Couple this with the recent NFC-rumours tumbling out of Apple's warehouses, and 2011 looks set to be the year that NFC becomes a force to be reckoned with.

So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about NFC.

What is NFC?
NFC technology is based on inductive-coupling – i.e. two objects, usually chips, sharing data over a maximum distance of 4-inches. In this sense, NFC is very similar to RFID technology – that’s what’s in your tap-to-pay credit cards and Oyster Cards.

But what’s different about NFC is that it brings some new interesting features to the table. In sort, NFC isn’t just a dumb-chip. It can interact with your device in a way that bog-standard RFID chips cannot.

How does NFC work?
Theoretically, NFC works in a very simple manner within the context of smartphone usage. For instance, if you have an NFC-enabled handset, like the Nexus S, and you hold it near an NFC tag – say, a poster containing a passive NFC chip – communication between the two NFC chips will commence. That’s it. Simple.

In pure layman’s terms, NFC is a way for your mobile phone to communicate with something else, be it a poster, Oyster point or card reader, so you can consume information, pay for things or load data onto your phone instantly.

What are the benefits of NFC?
The most obvious benefit of NFC for service-based businesses is that it allows for rapid payment without the need for a card or cash.

In this sense, it’s kind of like the Oyster card in that to pay for something, say a coffee, all you’d have to do is tap your phone on the NFC reader in the shop and it’ll pay for the coffee.

NFC is also extremely attractive to the guys-that-work-in-marketing as well because not only does it create a new way to interact with potential customers, such as interactive posters and the like, but it also opens up even more ways to suck money out of consumers.

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