NFC (Near Field Communication) is a wireless technology that allows devices to communicate without the need for physical contact. An NFC device needs to ‘touch in’, or be very near, to exchange data between the NFC chip and a terminal.
NFC technology can be used to replace train tickets, or ID, with your NFC-enabled phone or card.
It can also be used as an ‘e-wallet’, paying for items either through a prepaid account, or from a linked bank account.
The Oyster card, used to travel on London's buses and trains, already uses the technology, and Barclays offer contactless technology embedded into their credit and debit cards. A handful of mobile phones already contain NFC chips, including Google’s Nexus S, and the Nokia 6131.
Google are already trialling ‘smart posters' and NFC ‘hotspots’ in America. These can communicate with suitable phones, and alongside in-store payments, could offer discounts, local information and location tagging. Here's Google describing how their phone works with NFC, with the introduction of no-touch NFC; sharing contacts, websites and more.
McDonalds have also promised to roll out contactless payment (through NFC cards and phones) across the UK by October 2011.
How it works
NFC works through interacting electromagnetic radio waves, and although it needs to be very close to ‘communicate’, an NFC phone can work both ways; able to broadcast and receive data. Hypothetically, you could tap two NFC-capable devices together to exchange contacts, connect on Facebook, send web link, photos or even lend your mate a few quid!
Some NFC devices can even work without power, such as the Oyster card and the contactless payment version of Barclaycard. When compared to similar technology like Bluetooth, NFC uses less power, and its shorter range means it should be more secure. NFC data is also encrypted to avoid unsavoury types getting their hands on your details.
On the techie front; NFC isn’t as fast as Bluetooth, sending data at about a quarter of Bluetooth’s maximum data rate, though it’s been said that NFC could be used to setup Bluetooth devices, quickly and easily.
Another use, recently developed by Angry Birds developers and Nokia, enables users to connect their NFC-enabled phones to gain access to secret extra levels ina forthcoming edition of the hit franchise. This looks set to be available on future NFC phones from Nokia.
Big in Japan
NFC first appeared 2003, and is already heavily used in Japan and other countries in Asia.
Japanese users have NFC technology embedded into several different payment cards and their phones, with payment docks found in convenience stores, train stations and vending machines.
Some Japanese vending machines can even check a customers’ age on the NFC card before allowing the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol. Several different osaifu-keitai (literally, wallet-phone) companies have recently released iPhone cases that can be used with NFC technology.
The future of NFC
Near Field Communication on your phone could be used for door keys and security, similar to a hotel room keycard, meaning less chance of losing or forgetting your key, reducing costs for businesses. The lack of physical wear and tear -no parts of either NFC device need to actually ‘touch’- would also make replacements unnecessary. People's interest in this technology has been fed by rumours that Apple's next iPhone may also contain NFC goodness.
HTC is also rumoured to have joined the push for NFC, where their CEO mentioned they would be looking to support the trend of mobile payments, with a handset supposedly to be even more powerful than the HTC Sensation, released later this year.
Though companies like Barclays, Google and Orange all agree that it's going to be big in 2011, it looks like its success will depend on making sure that enough shops and services are able to accept NFC payments, and enough uses for the technology.