Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What can you expect from Near Field Communication (NFC)

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a kind of wireless communication technology built upon the existing Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) standards. Research and development activities on NFC have been active since early 2000s.

The official NFC logo is as below. You might probably find it on NFC-enabled devices.

While RFID devices are generally expensive, NFC devices are much more cheaper, making it possible to be included as part of a handphone feature. In fact, the 1st NFC phone is Nokia 6131 launched in 2006, and the 1st Android NFC smartphone is Samsung Nexus S launched in 2010.

The characteristics of NFC are:
  • 2 NFC devices can establish 2-way communication between them.
  • Beside that, NFC devices can also establish 1-way communication to read, write or erase data stored in specific RFID based tags called NFC tags.
  • NFC need very close contact between the devices or tag for the communication to occur. Normally, the gap between them must be within a few centimeters only.
  • NFC communication set-up time is very fast, normally within 0.1 seconds. This make it attractive as data transfer is instant once the devices or tag are touched together.
  • NFC communication is slow (about 424 kbps) compared with other wireless communication technology such as Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. However, this is good enough to transfer a small amount of data instantly. In addition, we can use NFC signal to initiate other faster data communications including Bluetooth pairing, WiFi connection, etc.
Today, as the amount of NFC-enabled devices available in the market has not reach its critical mass yet, this technology is still new for most of us. However, as more and more NFC-enabled handphones and other NFC-enabled devices roll-out to the market, we will have the chance to see it in action everywhere. It is estimated that, there will be over 500 million NFC-enabled handphones in use worldwide by 2015.

Industry players such as Google are working hard in making NFC to support electronic payment, electronic cash, electronic credit card, etc. for their Google Wallet. MasterCard is also working hard to make use of NFC for their PayPass contactless payment feature.
Right now, NFC tag has already shown its capability to do what the QR-code can do. This include storing of:
  • Website URL
  • Phone Number
  • Email
  • SMS message
  • Any Plain Text
  • Contact Information (vCard)
  • Google Maps Location
  • Google / Bing Search query
  • Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn
  • and more...

The advantages of using NFC tags than using QR codes including:
  • QR code is printed and final. NFC tag can be rewritten (multiple re-use), or optionally made into read-only.
  • QR code must be visible to the scanner. NFC tag can be hidden behind a label/poster/etc.
  • NFC tag reading is faster than QR code reading.
And the disadvantages of using NFC tags than using QR codes including:
  • QR code can be read from far, as long as it is visible. NFC need close contact to work.
  • QR code can be in electronic form (a graphical image file) which can be easily transmitted and duplicated. You can also put it on a webpage and show it to all the browsers. NFC tag is physical.
Right now, we just have to stay tuned and wait for the day of NFC to come to our day-to-day live.


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