Near Field Communications

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a short-range wireless technology that allows mobile devices to actively interact with passive physical objects and other active mobile devices, connecting the physical world to mobile services in ways that empower and benefit users. A term “Tap ‘n Go” is also used for this, because it clearly conveys a visual image in which this technology is intended to be used.

NFC builds upon Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and contactless smartcard technologies that enable stored data to be actively “read” at a short distance.

RFID is a powerful enabling technology that is being applied in an astonishing range of applications and uses, from supply chain management and product inventory control to identity authentication and access control. However, as RFID technologies become widely deployed, the possibility of unwanted identification, tracking and surveillance may increase, as may the likelihood of data interception, “cloning” and misuse.

NFC technology addresses some of the security and privacy concerns of RFID by restricting the physical separation of NFC devices and tags to a close proximity. Additionally, NFC includes specific reference use cases, additional technical specifications and usage profile specifications for existing standards. In the most-common use case scenarios, users’ mobile devices will scan, acquire and act upon the data available in posters and kiosks, connect and exchange data with other devices, emulate RFID tag readers to read and act on scannable coupons, vouchers, tickets and emulate a contactless card to act as a loyalty, access, or payment card. NFC builds upon the proven strengths of RFID “remote identification” technologies while addressing many of the security and privacy risks.

NFC has potential to become an extensively used system for making payments in the near future. NFC technology is being added to a growing number of mobile handsets to enable mobile payments, as well as many other applications.

Need for NFC:

Though contactless or proximity cards are already around, their reach isn’t very vast and bringing NFC to mobiles and other similar platforms will definitely up the usage.

The essence of NFC is short-range wireless communication that is both safe and effective. The maximum distance is about 20cms, which ensures that no unauthorized communication takes place. It scores over various shortcomings of Bluetooth such as high power consumption and security concerns. This form of communications also works when one of the devices is not powered.

NFC-enabled Smartphone have the potential to replace credit cards. This is because NFC phones pack a smart chip – a complex 80-character code that is really hard to crack. Such a device can safely store confidential credit card details and be handy for purchases on the go.

Since all NFC transactions take place within a very small area, anywhere from a touch to 4 centimeters. This means that you can’t unknowingly purchase something because you walk next to a smart poster.

Is it a New Technology?

No. NFC cannot be labeled a ‘new’ technology, as Nokia has been active in this line since 2004. Along with Philips and Sony, it has founded the NFC Forum. Participation of 130 countries in this forum clearly signals that NFC is set become a way of life in the years to come.

How does it work?

Near Field Communication is based on inductive-coupling, where loosely coupled inductive circuits share power and data over a distance of a few centimeters. NFC devices share the basic technology with proximity (13.56MHz) RFID tags and contactless smartcards, but have a number of key new features. Any device, a cell phone, a camera or a watch, can be equipped with an NFC ‘initiator’, which is simply an antenna that can store data. If the device is an NFC Smartphone, the ‘initiator’ and ‘target’ (an NFC reader) need to be up close for data exchange to happen. The ‘reader’ is attached to a point-of-sale (PoS) terminal or cash-register in a retail store that accepts NFC payments. A simple wave of the phone can pay for a purchase. Alternatively, two NFC phones can be tapped lightly to exchange business cards.

In standby mode, a well-designed NFC solution does not consume any power. And since transactions happen in seconds, the power drain is not huge.

Technology’s presence in India

Many smart-phones currently on the market already contain embedded NFC chips. The technology is still in its infancy here. As of now, the Reserve Bank does not recognize NFC mobile payment transactions and PoS terminals accepting NFC payments don’t exist. But many NFC-enabled phones are available. For NFC to take off, RBI has to frame norms and banks, carriers, credit card companies, apps developers and PoS terminal makers have to team up.

NFC Forum

Formed in 2004 promotes sharing, pairing, and transactions between NFC devices and develops and certifies device compliance with NFC standards. There are currently 140 NFC Forum members. They include LG, Nokia, Huawei, HTC, Motorola, NEC, RIM, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Toshiba, AT&T, Sprint, Rogers, SK, Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Intel, TI, Qualcomm, and NXP.


Emerging NFC standards allow users to transfer information by touching devices.

Social networking
  • NFC simplifies and expands social networking options:
  • File Sharing, sharing e-Business Cards, sharing e-Money, mobile gaming, Social Networking Sites etc.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Connections
  • NFC can be used to initiate higher speed wireless connections for expanded content sharing.
  • NFC expands e-Commerce opportunities, increases transaction speed and accuracy, while reducing staffing requirements.
Identity documents
  • NFC’s short range helps keep encrypted identity documents private.
  • ID card: An NFC enabled device can also act as an encrypted student, employee, or personal ID card or medical ID card.
  • Keycard: An NFC enabled device may serve as car, house, and office keys.
  • Rental Car and hotel keys: NFC rental car or hotel room keys may allow fast VIP check-in and reduce staffing requirements.
  • NFC can be deployed in ticketing services, rural banking, interactive and targeted advertising, healthcare, hospitality, libraries and pharmacies. In fact, an NFC phone could become the single-key to access to your car, home and office.

How is NFC different from or related to other wireless/RF technologies?

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a standards-based, short-range (a few centimeters) wireless connectivity technology that enables simple and safe two-way interactions between electronic devices, allowing consumers to perform contactless transactions, access digital content, and connect electronic devices with a single touch.

Bluetooth wireless technology was designed to replace cables between cell phones, laptops, and other computing and communication devices within a 10-meter range.

Wi-Fi technology was designed and optimized for Local Area Networks (LAN); it provides an extension or replacement of wired networks for dozens of computing devices within a +100-meter range.

ZigBee wireless technology is a standard enabling control and monitoring capabilities for industrial and residential applications within a +100-meter range.

IrDA is a short range (< 1 meter), line-of-sight communication standard for exchange of data over infrared light. IrDA interfaces are frequently used in computers and mobile phones.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is an automatic identification method, relying on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags. An RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or incorporated into a product. RFID tags contain silicon chips to enable them to receive and respond to queries from an RFID reader/writer.

Contactless smart cards incorporate a chip (microprocessor) that communicates with a card reader through RFID technology. Examples of contactless smart card communications are ISO/IEC 14443 and FeliCa, which allow communications at distances up to 10 cm.

NFC v/s Bluetooth

NFC and Bluetooth are both short-range communication technologies which are integrated into mobile phones.




Operation Speed



Power Consumption




Not Needed


Set Up Time

< 0.1 seconds. Faster than Bluetooth (Standard: < 6 seconds) but Slower than Bluetooth (Low Energy: 0.006 seconds).


Connection b/w Devices

Automatically established and quickly

Has to be manually Established

Data Transfer Rate

Maximum 424 kbits/sec (Slower)

For V2.1:

Max 2.1 Mbits/Sec (Faster)

Power Requirement

< 15mA. Comparatively low power. But NFC power consumption is greater than that of Bluetooth V4.0 Low Energy, this is because illuminating the passive tag needs extra power

< 15 mA. Comparatively Higher (Varies with Class)

Can work with Un-Powered Device




13.56 MHz (Lower)

2.4–2.5 GHz (Higher)


< 0.2 m.

Shorter: Max. 20 cm. Helps as reduces the likelihood of unwanted interception making NFC particularly suitable for crowded areas where correlating a signal with its transmitting physical device (and by extension, its user) becomes difficult.

~10 m (class 2)


not with RFID    


Network Type



Network Standard

ISO 13157 etc

IEEE 802.15.1

Standardization body


Bluetooth SIG

RFID compatible

ISO 18000-3


NFC-enabled device versus NFC tag

An NFC-enabled device can operate in reader/writer and peer-to-peer mode, and may operate in card emulation mode. An NFC tag is typically a passive device (for example, integrated in a smart poster) that stores data that can be read by an NFC-enabled device. A card and a tag are technically the same. However, contactless cards used in ticketing and payment today include additional technology to store secure data.

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