Near-Field Communication (NFC) explained

January 31, 2022


Near-Field Communication (NFC) explained

Some new technologies blend so seamlessly into our lives that we often end-up regularly using them without being aware. Near-Field Communication (NFC) is one of these technologies: It has been around for many years, but only recently became widely available in consumer-oriented devices. In this article you will learn what NFC is, why it is often confused with RFID and the top ten consumer use cases for NFC technology, including the application in the field of identity verification.

What is NFC technology and how does it work?

NFC, or Near Field Communication, is a technology that allows devices to exchange data wirelessly over very short distances. NFC allows devices to communicate with each other wirelessly, similar to Bluetooth. 

NFC technology operates in three modes: peer-to-peer, reader/writer, and card emulation. 

  • In peer-to-peer mode, two NFC-enabled devices can exchange data between each other.
  • Reader/writer mode allows an NFC-enabled device to read information from an NFC tag or card. 
  • Card emulation mode allows an NFC-enabled device to emulate an NFC card, such as a credit card or access card. 

NFC tags are small chips that can be embedded into products or printed on labels. NFC tags contain information that can be read by an NFC-enabled device. The tags can be used to store a variety of information, such as website URLs, contact information, or even small amounts of data. 


The difference between NFC and RFID technology

The terms NFC and RFID are often used interchangeably and oftentimes incorrectly. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a technology that uses radio waves to communicate between devices, typically at a distance of a few meters.

The main difference between NFC and RFID is the range over which they can communicate. NFC is designed for short-range communication, while RFID can be used for long-range communication. NFC is also faster than RFID, as it can communicate data at a rate of 424 kbps, while RFID typically has a data transfer rate of 106 kbps.

NFC is commonly used for contactless payment systems, such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. It is also used in some public transport systems, such as the Oyster card in London. RFID is used in a variety of applications, including contactless key fobs, security systems, and inventory management.

For deeper insight into these differences, take a look at BlueBite, a company that works directly with NFC and RFID technologies. RFID is "item-centric" and improves upon printed barcodes, while NFC is "user-centric" and improves upon QR codes.

The advantages of NFC technology

As NFC technology continues to evolve, new and innovative uses for NFC are likely to be developed. NFC technology is still in its early stages, but it has great potential. It could make a wide variety of everyday tasks easier and more convenient. 

Here are 5 reasons, why we think the use of NFC technology will continue to increase:

  1. It’s secure. NFC transmissions are short range, giving the individual more control over how they interact with the technology.
  2. It’s versatile. NFC can easily be implemented across a broad range of industries and situations.
  3. It’s an open technology and standards-based. Universal standards provide more choices for customers and lead to stable systems.
  4. It works with multiple systems. For example, smartphone-based NFC already works with existing contactless card technologies.
  5. It has working committees promoting its adoption. NFC has several primarily industry-led organizations working behind the scenes to increase NFC adoption, i.e. the NFC Forum.

How is NFC used?

NFC is a versatile technology and is used in a variety of industries, including retail, transportation, and banking. Here are 9 use cases:

  1. Contactless payments: NFC is used in contactless payments, where you can tap your phone on a terminal to pay for something, instead of using your credit card. 
  2. Public transit: NFC to pay for public transit is an extremely convenient use case. NFC is used to enable riders to pay for their fare by tapping their NFC-enabled device (transit card or smartphone) on a fare reader. 
  3. Controlled access: In a controlled access system, i.e. in workplaces, hotel rooms or fitness centers, the technology is used to read an NFC tag that is attached to an object. The NFC tag contains information that is used to control access to the object and can be read by an NFC reader that is connected to a control system. 
  4. Travel: Most passports have an embedded NFC chip which can be read by NFC hardware. This has been a boon for the travel industry as it has led to speedier border crossing / airplane boarding times. 
  5. Bodily implants: NFC chips can be implanted into a human or animal’s body, to store information which can be read by an NFC reader. The chip can i.e. be used for unlocking doors or making payments, but can also be used to store medical information like allergies or medications. 
  6. Embedded experiences: Art museums, such as the Museum of London, are using NFC to digitally enhance its exhibits. By scanning a NDC chip with the smartphone, visitors can be provided with additional information. 
  7. Product authentication: NFC chips can be integrated into luxury products to protect against counterfeits/fakes. 
  8. Task optimization / Management of assets: NFC can be used to help optimize a task or logistics by making it easier to track and manage. By using NFC tags, a user can quickly and easily identify what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. 
  9. Smart homes: Smart homes use NFC to communicate with devices to make life easier. NFC technology allows the devices to communicate with each other without the need for a physical connection.

Identity verification as a special use case of NFC technology

The 10th use case for NFC technology is digital identity verification. And this is exactly what PXL Vision is expert in, so let us explain this last use case in a bit more depth.

In the context of identity verification, NFC can be used to wirelessly transmit information like a person's name, date of birth, or government-issued ID number from an NFC-enabled ID card to a reader device. The reader device can then use that information to verify the person's identity. 

So, passports with an NFC chip can be used for online identity verification. The verification of the biometric NFC chip provides the highest security in document verification technology available on the market today. However, not every user device has the reading capability and most locally used identity documents, such as driver’s licenses or national ID cards, don’t yet have NFC chips embedded.

As an online identity verification company, PXL Vision utilizes this aspect of NFC technology where feasible, allowing individuals to remotely identify themselves by using their electronic passports or other NFC equipped identity document. Learn more about our online identity verification solution.

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