What Is NFC [the Only Guide You’ll Need in 2019]

by Teddy Mitova

Howdy!

We meet again on our journey to knowledge!

Today’s topic is NFC. No, not the National Football Conference. We’re talking about NFC as in Near Field Communication.

What exactly is NFC, you ask? Many of you are already using it without realizing.

NFC makes tap-and-go services possible. Which is why it is a must in smartphones and smartwatches. It is the key to smart everything: smart travel, smart payment, smart security, smart fitness, smart entertainment…

It is the new digital wallet everyone is talking about. It saves you from carrying around lots of cash or credit cards.

So let’s explore everything it can do and see why NFC functionality is out of this world.

What Is NFC?

NFC is a speedy way of wireless data transfer without the need for an internet connection. It detects technology in close proximity and enables it to communicate.

However, the devices need to be compatible to connect. At least one of them has to be transmitting, and the other has to receive the signal.

There’s more – devices can be either passive or active.

Passive NFC devices are able to send information to other NFC devices without needing a power source. This includes tags and other small transmitters.

They can’t connect to other passive devices and don’t process any info sent from other sources.

Usually, these are interactive signs on walls or advertisements.

On the other hand, active NFC devices can send and receive data and communicate with both active or passive devices. They are more sociable!

Smartphones, as you can guess, have an active one. Touch payment terminals and public transport card readers are also in the same club.

Great! But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s dive deeper.

Here’s for the curious cats:

How Does NFC Work?

Remember when your old cell phone used infrared to transfer files to another phone? It took ages to transfer just one file!

Then Bluetooth changed the game. Ahh, the speed! The convenience! The number of songs you could share with friends in just one short lunch break!

But now NFC is here to take over. Move aside, Blue!

Here’s the deal:

Just like its old pal Bluetooth, NFC uses radio waves. It is a standard for wireless data transitions.

The NFC technology is based on older RFID (Radio-frequency identification) concepts using electromagnetic induction in order to transmit information.

For a connection to happen, you’d need at least one active NFC enabled device. (Any NFC chip can be passive.) As you just found out, the passive one can only send, while the active can receive and forward this information to another active device.

It’s pretty cool how our smart devices communicate constantly!

But let’s see if NFC is perfect or if there are still some flaws to work out. Here are its main qualities and limitations:

NFC Pros And Cons

Let’s start with the positive and bigger section – the pros of NFC:

  • convenience
  • short setup time
  • more security
  • wide range and availability
  • battery life conservation
  • great user experience

Okay. But what does this all mean? Let’s tackle them one by one:

  1. NFC is convenient because it lets you control essential parts of your life easily. Your smartphone is always in your hand anyway – so why not use it to pay in the store, on the bus, and everywhere else! And with contactless credit cards using NFC tech, payments are much quicker.
  2. The setup time is short enough to make it easy for you to adopt the tech. Just a few taps is all you need! For Android, you simply go to Settings->Share & Connect->NFC and that’s it – you’ve switched to NFC mode. (For iPhone users, the NFC setting is in Communication settings.)
  3. It is more secure to pay using an NFC-enabled device because that way no one has physical access to your credit card info. And if your device is stolen, your PIN and password are still protected.
  4. The versatility of NFC is limitless. It can be used for a wide range of purposes – from fun to more serious stuff like payments.
  5. Using NFC spares your battery. Just try and compare it to other methods of data transfer and you’ll notice the difference.
  6. No wonder NFC accounts for better user experience – it’s easy and quick to use. Moreover, it’s fun. All its advantages make users love it.

And now for its drawbacks:

  • limited range
  • low data transfer rate
  • vulnerability due to security issues

Let’s examine each one closely:

  1. This technology doesn’t like long-distance relationships, that’s for sure. If the two devices you’re trying to connect are not super close to each other (meaning more than 4 cm or a couple of inches apart), they refuse to establish a connection. Nope. Ugh-uh. No way. If you insist on transferring data from the other end of the room, you can try Bluetooth instead. From the other end of the city (or the world) though, WiFi is your best friend.
  2. NFC has a comparatively low speed – 400 Kbit/s, so it’s not great for transferring large files such as videos.
  3. As much as we all like NFC, we’re still unsure whether our data is completely safe. Mobile hackers are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities.

Like every new technology, NFC has both positive and negative sides and is still developing.

But what everyone wants to know is

Is NFC Technology Secure?

Let’s first agree on this – nothing is 100% safe.

However, NFC is quite secure. Here is why:

  • Its extremely short range greatly hinders hackers from tampering with your NFC signal and what-not. You’re sure to notice if anyone gets uncomfortably close to you.
  • The NFC is on only when you want it. For example, the chip will activate when you use an NFC terminal at a store. It isn’t working while your phone is in your pocket and you’re just wandering about.
  • NFC signals are extremely sensitive. If you turn your device even slightly, it won’t be able to read a smart tag.
  • Lastly, you just have to be careful with public smart tags. A hacker can easily corrupt a tag on a movie poster so that it shares your personal information.
  • The best thing you can do is to never tap any tags that aren’t physically protected (behind plastic or glass, for example).
  • Never bump phones with strangers (is what modern moms teach their kids nowadays).
  • And when you tap a tag, carefully watch your phone for any suspicious activities.

It is up to people to keep their tech safe and sound, after all. Treat it as something precious. (Because it is!)

Now that we have that sorted, on to the really fun part!

NFC payment

How to Use NFC and What Is It Used For?

Here is what a world with NFC looks like:

You go to your favorite store and use a service like Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay at the cashier’s desk.

Then you go to the mall and fall in love with a big fluffy coat on sale. There’s only one problem – it’s summer and you don’t want to carry it around the whole day. But no worries – you notice an NFC tag you can happily tap and next thing you know, the coat will be delivered to your home address.

NFC retail tag

You meet friends at the movies and have fun with the advertising tag on the new movie poster that directs you to the website.

One of your friends asks you about your dentist’s number and you two bump phones so you can send it to them. Then they take a group selfie and they send it your way through NFC as well. Nice! 

When the movie’s over, you have to make a quick stop at the drugstore, but your mobile phone is at the bottom of your overflowing bag… No worries – you grab your contactless card and pay that way. (Remember, an NFC card is the one that has the sign from the picture above indicating it’s contactless.)

It’s time to go to the gym and work out after the huge pizza you ate for lunch.

Let’s stop here while it’s fun. You got the idea.

Basically, you can use NFC to do anything in your daily life. You saw the ways you can pay and transfer data using NFC tech. You can also launch an app on someone else’s phone (if they’re curious what you’re playing, for example), send directions to someone (you still have to be next to each other though), use NFC for transit and boarding passes, security passes and so on. The sky’s the limit!

Last but not least – arguably the most fun part – you can: 

  • connect with different NFC tags
  • pair tech accessories like speakers with NFC
  • log in to your work computer with just a tap of the phone
  • unlock your car doors
  • control your car or home
  • manage your trips
  • keep track of your health and fitness stats

… and much more.

Your kid can tap a tag at the front door to automatically send you a message that they’re home – otherwise, they’ll surely forget and you’ll worry.

NFC tech can also be used for loyalty cards. You can create tags especially for your business. NFC products can be keyfobs, wristbands, labels, hang tags, durable tags – plenty of unexplored possibilities await. Any creative impulse you have for a groundbreaking product may well pay off in the future!

Moreover, NFC improves gaming and sports too. It speeds up stadium entry and sales, improves running shoes, and more.

And guess what? NFC perks up gaming more than ever.

Lastly, there’s even the option to implant an NFC chip into your body, but it seems a bit much.

This is just a small part of all NFC features that are either already here – or will soon come into existence! Get yourself an NFC-enabled device (chances are you already have one) and you can conquer the world.

NFC Devices

There are numerous NFC smartphones, credit cards, tablets, and laptops. And if you want to be even fancier, you can get an NFC smartwatch too.

Wondering whether your smartphone or tablet (or the one you consider buying) will let you enjoy the power of NFC? It’s extremely easy to find out.

Most of the recent smartphones have NFC. Android phones, iPhones, tablets, smartwatches – no device is left behind.

If you want to check whether yours is NFC-enabled, you can go to Settings or try to find yours in this list of NFC compatible smartphones and tablets. The list shows their compatibility with different NFC tags as well.

Don’t forget to check it before you buy a new phone too. You don’t want to miss out on NFC tech and let your friends have all the fun, right?

Okay. But does NFC have any more tricks up its sleeve? Let’s see…

What Is the Future of NFC?

NFC is certainly here to stay. It is intuitive and easy to use.

This is why it gets integrated everywhere nowadays. It can even replace passwords.

Most people use their smartphones in stores, and the forecast is that by 2021 40% will consistently use a mobile phone to make a purchase at a physical point of sale.

Moreover, the global NFC market is expected to reach about $49.5 billion by 2025. Click To Tweet

Yes, NFC is going strong! More and more options will get explored, allowing for our lives to get easier in new ways.

NFC payments are already a thing. Consumers are comfortable with using NFC in general and will welcome its further integration into their daily lives. They’ve already seen the speedy transactions and the effortless payments – and they want more.

Top brands also welcome NFC as a way to connect and communicate with customers, and more will soon follow suit. 

The corporate world is infamous for being conservative. If they’re also adopting this tech, you just know it’s about to become mainstream.

Wrapping Up

What is NFC? Now you know the answer. You also discovered how NFC works, and much more!

NFC might seem like a boring acronym, but we’re now witness to how cool this technology is.

With an NFC smartphone in hand, the world is your oyster.

You don’t need tap dance lessons to tap your NFC device as often as you like!

Be it the bus or the train station, the retail store or the supermarket, the movie theater or the gym, your car or at home – the technology is just a tap away.

Stay tuned for updates and take advantage of the NFC devices you most likely already own!

Now let’s recap with the FAQ as usual.

FAQ

What does NFC stand for? / What does NFC mean?

NFC is an acronym for Near Field Communication. It is a method of data transfer.

What is NFC?

NFC is a way of wireless data transfer without the need for an internet connection. It allows for short-range communication between compatible devices.

What is an NFC device?

It is a device that has an NFC chip. It can be a smartphone, a tablet, a smartwatch, or a laptop.

What is an NFC chip?

An NFC chip acts as one part of a wireless link. It has evolved from the RFID tech. When it gets activated by another chip, small amounts of data can be transferred between two devices that are in close proximity (within a few centimeters or less than 2 inches from each other, to be more precise).

Do I need NFC?

NFC is gaining more and more popularity, and you don’t want to miss out! It’s easy to get an NFC-enabled device – most new smartphones support the tech.

How does NFC work?

NFC uses radio waves, similarly to Bluetooth and WiFi. The technology is based on RFID (Radio-frequency identification) using electromagnetic induction to transfer information.

It needs a passive and an active device to work.

What is NFC payment?

This is a method of payment that needs an NFC-enabled smartphone. If a place accepts NFC payments, you can simply put your smartphone next to their NFC device, tap it and voila – you’ve made a payment! Easy peasy!

How to use NFC?

See if your device supports NFC first. You can check online or from your Settings menu. If you have it, you can use it to transfer photos, contacts, to make payments, and so on. Just remember – the NFC range is about 4 cm or less than 2 inches.

What does NFC do?

What doesn’t it do? It can help with your payments, with tracking your health stats, with digital tickets, and so on. And the good news is, it’s evolving further as we speak.

So the answer to “What is NFC?” is really “The next great thing that makes your life easier!”

Take care and I’ll see you soon!

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