Near Field Communication, or NFC, describes a set of radio communication standards which allows devices to communicate when they are near each other. There are actually two types of communication, ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’. A device is Actively communicating when it sends or receives data. Smartphones are a good example of this as are touch-screen payment terminals. A tag would be an example of a Passive device, it cannot process information and does not have a power supply.
NFC can trace its’ history back to 2004 when Sony, Nokia, and Philips established a Forum for development. In 2006 specs were written for the initial tags followed by the first NFC capable phone, the Nokia 6131 – hard to believe it was cutting edge and that was only 8 years ago!
In 2010 the Samsung Nexus S becomes the first Android phone to feature NFC. In 2011 Research In Motion becomes the first company to receive certification from MasterCard for NFC. In 2012 Sony launched Smart Tags allowing users to change profiles and modes. In 2013 a new authentication technology was introduced to increase security. Currently BlackBerry, Android and Windows Phone offer NFC technology.
Each year when Apple announces its’ new line of iPhones there is speculation whether or not they will switch to NFC from Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE has a range of approximately 50 meters (164 ft) while NFC has a practical range of approximately 4 centimeters (>2 inches). There are technical differences between the systems including data transmission rate and energy consumption, to name a couple.
So where does that leave us? One factor that could tip the balance is security. Now that NFC supports Host Card Emulation (HCE), it could easily become the payment method of choice. HCE allows mobile payment app developers to sidestep access to the ‘secure element’ (think of the magnetic strip on your credit card). This simplifies some of the complexities involved in mobile payments. In addition, Android 4.4 has embraced HCE.
So once again, where does this leave us? Companies in Japan were early adapters and have embraced NFC. Recently BlackBerry got involved in a partnership in Canada called EnStream, a joint venture between Telus, Bell, and Rogers. Once retailers in the EU and US make the change we could be one step closer to a cashless society. Just a thought, if Apple switched to NFC, it may create enough momentum for that to happen.
So lets end this with a poll.