NFC Technology

What exactly is Near Field Communication?

Wikimedia Commons

Put simply, Near Field Communication, or NFC, is a “contactless technology”, similar and compatible with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, that allows devices, such as smartphones, to “share and access data over short ranges”. (pay by mobile)  Called the “magic wand” technology (Fischer), the “close range” wireless data exchange allows devices to communicate by coming into close contact with one another. (better).  As “both a ‘read’ and ‘write’ technology” (better), NFC is mundane in that the technology is based on a simple RF connection between two NFC products (Fischer).  As the connection is limited to around four centimeters in range (better), a resulting connection indicates user intent and allows your “favorite electronic companion” to become your “magic wand” (Fischer).

Opening the black box, we discover NFC is “based on inductive-coupling, where loosely coupled inductive circuits share power and data over a distance of a few centimeters” (NFC Forum).  Typically, there are two pieces of technology involved in a near field communication: an NFC-enabled device connecting/communicating with another “NFC-enabled device” or an NFC tag (NFC Forum).  These pieces can include both passive technology (“does not provide its own source of energy”) as well as active (includes “a self-contained energy source”) tags (Fischer).  Significantly, passive NFC tags “can be made inexpensively and last virtually forever” (Fischer).  Typically, an NFC tag is passive and “stores data that can be read by an NFC-enabled device” (NFC Forum).  Meanwhile, NFC-enabled devices, such as smartphones, are complex in their ability to switch operating modes, which can include:

  • Read/write Mode:  In this mode, an NFC-enabled device “initiate[s] an operation with a passive tag” (Fischer), such those on smart posters (NFC Forum).
  • Card Emulator Mode: Similar to a “traditional contactless smart card”(NFC Forum), an NFC-enabled device “will appear to a reader/writer as a passive tag, but in fact can be active”, allowing it to “look like any selectable number of tags for the users” and also to allow the device to be read as a “default” tag when “powered down or out of battery” (Fisher 23) or changing the existing infrastructure  (NFC Forum).
  • Peer-to-Peer Mode: Here, two NFC-enabled devices  exchange data (NFC Foum), mandating both an “active initiator and active target”- i.e., a phone and another device (or another phone) sharing “data as network peers” (Fisher 23).   Often leveraging “Bluetooth or WiFi link set up parameters” users easily share “data such as virtual business cards or digital photos” (NFC Forum).

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