We work a lot with RFID and we have some great articles about it already that explain the LF, HF and UHF versions that it comes in.  However one technology, called Near Field Communication is becoming more and more popular and needs a little bit of explanation!

NFC is not specifically an RFID technology all on its own, but rather a set of standards.  It in fact uses the HF MiFare spectrum and any MiFare based ISO 14443 tags or cards will work with NFC readers.  However NFC goes further than reading or writing to tags.

Designed for 2 Way communication

Driven by the Smartphone side of the mobile world, rather than the Rugged PDA side of it, NFC is an attempt to create a set of standards built on top of RFID technology that allow for 2 way communication between 2 devices.  Although NFC readers are essentially just HF readers they are able to do much more than read or even wrote to tags.  The standard is designed to allow devices to talk to each other, swap data and even change the data swapped based upon the communication.

NFC Applications

Smartphones with NFC chips in them are already forming the basis of new and exciting applications.  Probably the most well-known would be the contact-less payment systems we’re seeing in news agents that allow payments up to £10 to be made by simply touch your smartphone ont a payment pad.  I also saw a German bus and train system being used in its infancy with readers and cards, much like the Oyster system on the London Underground.  Well NFC is already replacing this where NFC enabled smartphones can take the place of cards easily and talk directly to the payment pads.  This means you only need to carry around the 1 device, with no cards to get mixed up or lost.

We’re also already working on a number of project where NFC chips are sitting at the heart of attendance or social applications and in fact as we develop for NFC, we’re seeing a range of potential applications where 2 devices need to talk.  You can use the technology as a far more secure means of pairing devices or where 1 devices can be used as a “key” to another.  It’s better than bluetooth as its quicker, more intuitive and has a more secure basis for communication.  Vehicle security, file sharing, Info gathering and a multitude of healthcare applications are all just  some of the areas we’ll see NFC in very soon.

Benefits and negative press

Well theft of your smartphone seems to mean you lose all your money if you listen to the press, but in reality the system is so secure it’s very difficult to get anything from it illegally.  In fact at the moment the payment systems are restricted to £10 per transaction and let’s be fair, the whole system is far more secure than your iTunes account or mobile banking app that is also probably already on your device too.

The benefits however are enormous.  In theory no more RFID tags or cards would be needed with your smartphone being be used to do everything from make payments for your lunch, paying for that bus or train trip to work and even letting you into your office building.  Not having money in your pocket will stop loss and theft too as well as saving billions potentially in currency costs and again in theory this is a system that could be used worldwide with very little work.

The standard is open, you can build apps with it on a variety of platforms and we have a growing number of NFC devices as well as test chips here that we’re already using to get to grips with the technology.  Whatever people say, NFC is here to stay and it’s going to be the long-delayed tipping point for RFID in my humble opinion.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.