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April 25, 2011

Everything you need to know about NFC

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Earlier this month research firm Juniper Research said 20 per cent of all smartphones would be NFC-enabled by the year 2014. That works out at a whopping 300 million. With so many people predicted to get their hands on this fantastic technology we thought we best take a closer look at what Near Field Communication actually is, what it does and why it’s suddenly become so sizzling hot.

What is it?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of explaining it without using tech-jargon. NFC is a short-range, low-power communications protocol between two devices that enables interactions via electromagnetic radio fields. It allows small amounts of data to be transferred wirelessly over a relatively short distance or by physical touch, which is how it is differs to Bluetooth.

What can you do with it?

The three main uses for NFC are sharing, pairing and transaction. Transactions are what you’ll most likely experience first. Just imagine your smartphone as a credit or debit card. If you want to buy something just tap it against a payment terminal and boom, job done. It’s not just your plastic that NFC will replace. Since 2003 millions of Londoners have been using NFC Oyster travel cards. Five million are touched against readers on the Underground every single day. In fact, they’re so popular, they’re even bringing out a commemorative one celebrating the Royal Wedding. As well as public transport, everything from library cards to hotel keycards could theoretically be replaced.

Why you’ll care to share

As for sharing, that will mainly be passive tags sharing info with your phone. This system will work in much the same way as QR codes (those square barcode-like tags scannable by your smartphone camera) are used now. The only difference is you won’t need to take a snap or open an app. Simply tap your phone against say a food tag and you’ll get ingredients info or against a film advert and get cinema opening times.

Why you’ll pair up

The pairing aspect is to do with how you interact with other people’s smartphones. With NFC, you’ll be able to tap your phone against another phone or against phone accessories to immediately configure them. To swap contact info with a new friend or business acquaintance, you won’t need 3G, you’ll just need to tap.

Why is it such a hot topic now?

Good question, even if we did ask it ourselves. NFC has been around for a long time. As far back as 2005, Nokia launched the Nokia 3220 with an NFC-modified back cover. But it was only really in 2007 with the Nokia 6131 NFC, that the tech started to make waves. The Japanese were the earliest adopters and now it’s pretty much standard there. However, NFC has had a few false starts elsewhere. For it to really take hold, NFC needs big companies like manufacturers, merchants, credit companies and networks working together. With the massive growth of smartphones, it looks like 2011 could finally be the year that happens.

Anything else you want to know about the magic of NFC, drop us a comment and we’ll try and help.