NFC: What is it and how it Works

We previously explained in one of our posts what is RFID technology. Within this type of radio frequency technology, one of the most well-known is NFC, another type of communication using the same medium that is becoming increasingly common in our daily lives.

One of the most widespread applications of NFC is mobile payment systems, but NFC offers other utilities that help with the digitization of objects or communication with machines. In this post, we explain in greater detail what NFC technology is and what the differences are with RFID technology.

What is NFC technology?

NFC technology, or Near Field Communication, is a short-range wireless communication technology that allows for data exchange between devices. Based on RFID technology, NFC can establish communication between two devices simply by bringing them within a distance of 4 cm or less. This technology helps make the Internet of Things (IoT) a reality by allowing for easy and secure connections between objects.

NFC is a contactless communication technology that is popular and widely used in smartphones and other electronic devices. Although it started as a simple idea to improve communication between devices, it has grown to become an essential technology that drives our daily lives and our economy.

How does NFC technology work?

NFC works thanks to a physical principle known as electromagnetic induction. When two NFC-equipped devices (such as your phone and a payment terminal) come close to each other, one of them (the initiator) generates a low-frequency electromagnetic field. The other device (the target) receives this field and can extract the information encoded in it.

NFC uses the radio frequency system for its operation, specifically the 13.56 MHz radio frequency spectrum (like HF RFID). It has a power of less than 15 mA, which allows for immediate data transmission in a range of up to approximately 20 cm between devices. The capacity of NFC tags varies depending on the type of chip they incorporate, but they generally have a storage capacity of between 96 and 512 bytes.

Despite its apparent complexity, NFC is designed to be simple and easy to use. You don't need to be a technology expert to take advantage of its benefits. You just need a device equipped with NFC and to know that, by simply bringing it close to another NFC device or tag, you can make payments, obtain information, and much more.

NFC technology can operate in 2 different ways or modes:

  • Active mode: The 2 devices (emitter and receiver) communicate by producing a signal. One of the devices waits for data, and its electromagnetic field turns off.
  • Passive mode: The emitter device generates an electromagnetic field, and the receiver modulates it. The device that receives is powered by the intensity of the emitter's electromagnetic field.

Passive mode, therefore, only allows for one-way communication, in which there is only one active device and the other takes advantage of that field to exchange information. Active mode allows for two-way communication.

NFC technology only needs 200 microseconds to connect and can transmit information at rates of 106, 212, 424, or 848 Kbit/s, so it is often used for identity verification and devices.

Practical applications of NFC technology in the industry

NFC technology has proven to be incredibly versatile, finding a wide range of applications in various industries. From manufacturing to retail, and in areas of security and access, NFC is reshaping the way we work and live.

Uses of NFC in the manufacturing industry

The manufacturing industry is a space where NFC has demonstrated considerable value. Here, this technology can improve efficiency, accuracy, and security in the supply chain.

For example, NFC tags can be integrated into products and components to allow for precise tracking throughout the entire supply chain. A simple tap with an NFC reader can provide detailed information about the product's location, time in inventory, or production status. This reduces the need for manual tracking, minimizes errors, and improves operational efficiency.

In addition, NFC tags can be used for asset maintenance and management. A technician can scan the tag on a piece of machinery to access its maintenance history, instruction manuals, specifications, and other essential data, facilitating maintenance and repair operations.

NFC in retail

NFC is also revolutionizing retail, providing a richer and more personalized shopping experience for customers. The most well-known implementation is probably in mobile payments, where customers can make a purchase simply by tapping their smartphone to a payment terminal.

But the possibilities go beyond that. NFC tags can be incorporated into store shelves or products themselves, allowing customers to access additional information, product reviews, demonstration videos, and special offers simply by scanning the tag with their phones.

In addition, retailers can use NFC to collect valuable data about customer preferences and behavior, allowing them to offer a more personalized shopping experience and improve their marketing strategies.

Innovations in security and access with NFC

NFC is also proving to be a valuable tool in improving security and access control. In businesses and security facilities, NFC identification cards can replace physical keys, allowing access to restricted areas with a simple card tap.

Furthermore, NFC technology allows for precise tracking of who has accessed which areas and when, improving security and accountability.

Uses of NFC technology

This technology has the advantage of being fast and easy to set up in completely different areas, among which are:

  • NFC identification: with NFC technology we can identify objects, people, or anything else we need.
  • Data transfer: it is one of the fastest and most agile forms of connectivity and data transfer between devices.
  • Mobile payments: If you pay using your mobile phone, you don't even need to use your bank card anymore, as the smartphone replaces it. It stores banking data in apps installed on mobile phones and creates a virtual image of the physical card to pay with NFC from the smartphone. The procedure is the same as with a card, just bring the device close to the corresponding POS and the communication will be established.
  • Purchase of digital support tickets: Although it may not be a well-known option, its use is increasing every moment. The typical paper ticket for the cinema, a concert, or a museum is used less and less. Now we have the option of using electronic tickets that are read with NFC. Unifying the entire sales process in NFC technology could be the ideal solution for ticket sales companies.
  • Access control: To use NFC in access control, a compatible device is needed, and it must be configured together with the access system. Install NFC readers at desired entrances, associate devices with specific users, and test the system. In addition, some systems may include records and alerts for unauthorized access.
  • Two-factor authentication: This is another application that has a lot of future for NFC, being a security element to receive access permission to a computer or certain web applications. The usual procedure is to enter the password and at the same time place the configured NFC device near the enabled sensor. Thus, the system would recognize them and enable access to the user.
  • Device synchronization: With NFC technology, we can synchronize several devices such as speakers easily, simply by bringing both devices close to each other.
  • Automation of actions: We can configure NFC tags so that different devices perform a series of actions when they are read, such as connecting to a wifi network, activating one mode or another of the device, etc.

Differences between RFID and NFC

While RFID and NFC share certain characteristics, their differences in terms of range, communication, compatibility, and modes of operation make them suitable for different applications. While RFID is ideal for inventory management and long-distance asset tracking, NFC excels in short-range applications that require secure and complex interactions, such as mobile payments and data exchange.

  • Operating distance: The communication range is one of the most significant differences between RFID and NFC. While RFID tags can be read from several meters away (depending on the type of RFID, whether LF, HF, or UHF), NFC communication is designed to work at a distance of 4 centimeters or less. This makes NFC ideal for applications where a higher degree of security is required, such as mobile payments.
  • Two-way communication: NFC is a bidirectional communication technology, which means that both the reader and the device (or tag) can send and receive information. This allows for more complex interactions, such as file exchange between two smartphones. In contrast, most RFID applications are one-way: the tag sends information to the reader but does not receive any.
  • Compatibility and standardization: NFC is actually a subset of RFID technology, specifically of the HF (High Frequency) type. This means that NFC is compatible with this type of RFID. However, NFC has its own standards, defined by the NFC Forum, that ensure interoperability between NFC devices.
  • Modes of operation: As mentioned earlier, NFC can operate in three modes: read/write mode, card emulation mode, and peer-to-peer mode. These modes allow for a variety of applications, from reading passive tags to emulating credit cards and performing data exchanges between devices. On the other hand, RFID is generally used to identify and track objects, thanks to its greater range and ability to read multiple tags at once.

NFC Tags

NFC tags (Near Field Communication) are small wireless identification devices that use radio waves to transmit information over short distances. They typically consist of an antenna, an NFC chip connected to the antenna, and an adhesive surface that can be affixed to any surface made of paper, polypropylene, or other materials. These tags can be programmed with any necessary information, and the internal memory capacity of an NFC tag depends on the chip it incorporates. At Dipole, we work with a wide variety of different chips to offer the best solution to our clients.

In summary, NFC tags are low-power devices that allow for automatic and easy transmission of information over short distances. This makes them very useful in a wide variety of applications.

How to choose an NFC tag?

The most important feature to consider when choosing an NFC tag is the memory capacity, durability, place of application, and format.

  • Memory: The storage capacity of NFC tags is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a tag. We must ensure that the capacity of the NFC tag is sufficiently large to store the necessary information.
  • Durability: Depending on where we are going to apply the NFC tag, we should choose a more durable tag. At Dipole, we have developed high-durability tags that can be applied in more extreme environmental conditions and complex industrial situations.
  • Format: NFC tags come in various sizes and shapes. Choosing an appropriate format will depend on its use. We can find very small NFC tags to be applied on cards or larger ones for other types of objects.
  • Place of application: We need to be clear about where we are going to apply the NFC tags to decide what type of adhesive is best or, for example, there are inconveniences if we want to apply NFC tags on metals, so Dipole has NFC tags for metals.

The Future of NFC

NFC technology is constantly evolving and promises to be an integral part of our digital future. With its growing adoption in a wide range of industries, now is the time to consider how your business can prepare and take advantage of the opportunities offered by NFC.

Trends and Prospects of NFC

Technology NFC has already demonstrated its value in a range of applications, from mobile payments to supply chain management and access security. However, the evolution of technology and emerging trends suggest that there is still much more to come.

One of the most exciting developments is the integration of NFC with the Internet of Things (IoT) technology. The combination of these two technologies allows for smoother communication between devices and systems, creating smarter and more efficient networks. This can have applications in a wide range of fields, from home automation to smart city management.

Mobile payments adoption is expected to continue to grow as more consumers become familiar with the convenience and security they offer. This trend is also driving innovation in areas such as digital identification and biometric authentication, where NFC can play a crucial role.

How to Prepare Your Business to Maximize NFC

Preparing your business to take full advantage of NFC requires a combination of technological strategy and organizational change. Here are some steps you can consider:

  1. Assess Your Needs: Before implementing NFC technology, it is crucial to understand how it can benefit your business. This could involve improving operational efficiency, providing a better customer experience, enhancing security, or a combination of these.
  2. Invest in the Right Technology: Depending on your needs, this may involve purchasing NFC readers, integrating NFC tags into your products, or upgrading your payment systems to accept mobile payments.
  3. Train Your Staff: Ensuring your staff understands how NFC works and how they can use it in their work can help ensure a smooth transition and maximize the benefits of the technology.
  4. Encourage Customer Adoption: If you plan to use NFC to improve the customer experience, such as allowing mobile payments or providing product information through NFC tags, it will be essential to educate your customers about the benefits and use of this technology.

The History of NFC

Technology In 2002, Sony and Philips joined forces to develop a short-range wireless communication technology that would eventually become the precursor to NFC. Their goal was to create a simple and secure way to allow for the exchange of data between electronic devices. By 2004, Sony, Philips, and Nokia had formed the NFC Forum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the use and standardization of NFC technology. This organization was responsible for establishing the technical standards that enable compatibility between NFC devices.

NFC began to gain popularity in the 2010s, as smartphones equipped with the technology began to appear on the market. Google Wallet, launched in 2011, was one of the first applications that allowed users to make payments simply by tapping their phone on a payment terminal. Since then, the use of NFC has grown exponentially. Today, it is an omnipresent technology used in a wide range of applications, from mobile payments and transit cards to gaming and access control systems.

About Dipole

Now you know a little more about the differences within RFID technologies, and specifically the NFC system and its tags. At Dipole, we have been working with the latest advances in RFID technology for years, and our mission is to provide solutions for problems related to traceability, identification, labeling, and data capture. Thanks to our R&D resources, we have developed solutions for more than 7,000 installations in end customers, covering all their needs. We encourage you to get in touch with us to discover all the benefits that our customized products can offer you.


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