Leaders in the technology industry gathered at the Smart Card Alliance NFC Solutions Summit 2012 last week to discuss the future of Near Field Communication technology in mobile phones.
NFC has been built into a small number of smartphones, enabling phones to be used as payment devices when it is placed near compatible readers. The concept is similar to the credit card network, in which the reader scans the card or NFC chip to complete a transaction between the user and the vendor.
Summit speakers, though, contended that payment was only one possible application for NFC. Koichi Tagawa, chair of the NFC Forum, said that more widespread adoption was dependent on building support for ticketing for mass transit and attractions; physical access for office buildings; check-in services for hotels and social media; and gaming.
Despite several years of availability to handset makers and mobile carriers, fewer than one percent of current phones are NFC-ready, according to Marguerite Reardon of CNET. NFC is an evolution of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, which uses small unpowered tags that can be read when it passes through the electromagnetic field of a reader device. NFC chips in phones are powered and can interact with passive RFID tags as well as other NFC devices, enabling two-way communication.
Although NFC is similar to Bluetooth in that both are short-range, low-bandwidth radio communications protocols, the two solutions are more likely to complement each other than compete. Intel’s wireless marketing product line manager, Carlos Aguirre, was quoted by NFCNews.com as saying that NFC “could be the de facto standard in the future for how wireless devices pair.” The NFC Forum released a guide in December 2011 showing how NFC could be used to initially pair two devices together, but Bluetooth would still provide the ongoing data connection at distances exceeding one foot.
One of the earliest implementations of RFID technology for consumers was Mobil’s Speedpass, a keychain fob that allowed gas station customers to pay by waving the fob near a receiver on the pump. Today, MasterCard’s PayPass is accepted at several gas station chains and other retail locations, whether embedded in a physical credit card or using NFC on a phone.
Juniper Research estimates that one in five new smartphones worldwide will have NFC chips by 2014. Almost 300 million smartphones will be NFC-enabled by then, half in North America.
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