Posted by:Ranjani Rao February 23rd, 2012

Near Field Communication (NFC) has been a hot topic lately with Apple talking about including it in its iPhone this year. You’ll be surprised to know though that NFC is not new. The technology to support communication and transfer of data over very close distance (from a touch to a few centimeters) has been around since 2003, when it was approved as an ISO/IEC standard.

NFC technology has been part of various trials in Sony, Philips and Nokia labs since years but took off only last year in the US with the support of banks and network carriers. NFC chips are now part of mobile devices – Android (from Samsung), BlackBerry (RIM), and Microsoft from 2012. Carriers and vendors are also investing in NFC to streamline customer services.

How NFC works

NFC is a standards-based (ISO, ECMA, and ETSI) connectivity technology that uses electromagnetic radio fields to communicate with electronic devices, mobile devices, and PCs. It is compatible with Bluetooth and WiFi and interoperates with existing contactless card technologies. All you do is wave or touch your NFC-enabled device to a compatible scanner for payments, data transfer, or information exchange.

Applications of NFC

NFC brings convenience into a number of everyday tasks. It also helps vendors reduce administrative, reporting, tracking and operational overheads. Some of the known and not so known applications of NFC technology are:

  • Mobile payment – The search giant’s Google Wallet app is an excellent example of how your mobile device works as a wallet for cash, reward cards, gift cards, loyalty points and coupons. Tap to pay for travel tickets, hotel bills, restaurant checks, and more.
  • Access control – NFC devices can be your authentication ticket to enter your office.
  • Transport – Your NFC-enabled mobile device not only lets you pay for tickets but also allows bus drivers to verify passengers have paid their fare.
  • Information sharing – At the Museum of London, you can learn more about displayed objects via your NFC-enabled device; purchase tickets and vouchers too.
  • Parking meters – Tap your NFC device on a parking meter and pay for your time. PayByPhone app even sends a reminder before the parking period expires.
  • Medical devices – The SleepTrak NFC-enabled device attaches to your arm when you sleep and monitors sleep state for disorders. The recorded data can be read via NFC and suitable action taken.
  • Product shipping – The ATI Log-IC NFC Logger and an Android app monitor thermometer readings for shipping of temperature-sensitive goods.
  • Healthcare – At hospitals, patients can tap their NFC phones to transfer accurate info including patient identification, insurance coverage, and payment information without having to fill out time-consuming and tedious forms.
  • PayPal – PayPal is enabling NFC on its mobile app to support fund transfer between accounts with a touch.
  • Potential Security Hazards of NFC

Though NFC is secure as it requires devices to be very ‘near’ each other, its very convenience can work against in case of loss or theft on an NFC-enabled device or if there’s third party interception of data. However, these security issues can be mitigated with the enforcement of data encryption, communication security with PINs and access codes, vendor signatures, and more comprehensive authentication measures.

Every convenience comes with its set of risks. It matures over time and enhanced consumer awareness.

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