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Find out more about NFC – a small technology with a big future

by on January 9, 2018 in Latest News, Lead Article, News you can use, Nuggets

If you’ve heard of NFC but are not exactly sure of what it is, how it works or how you can use it, then this article is for you.

NFC or Near Field Communication, to give it its full name, is technology which is becoming increasingly common in all areas of life. It has countless applications and is used by businesses, healthcare organisations, education establishments and can even be used in our homes.

Essentially, NFC is a technology which enables two devices, one active and one passive, to communicate with each other using radio waves. The active device is the reader. It sends out a signal which activates a small chip, known as a tag, in the passive device. Once activated, the tag transmits data back to the reader. This data can then be processed, stored and actioned.

You can get various kinds of dedicated NFC readers, such as payment terminals and access control scanners. The latter, for example, can be attached to office doors and enable access by swiping an NFC enabled card, such as those made by Universal Smart Cards. The most common devices with an NFC reader built in, however, are smartphones, which can scan tags and then do a range of different things depending on how the tag is programmed.

NFC tags are either circular, square or rectangular and come in different physical sizes. They can be embedded into other items such as wristbands, key fobs, smart cards and phones, and can also come in the form of stickers or adhesive labels that can be attached to virtually anything.

Within each tag are electrical components, including antennae for sending and receiving data and the all-important memory. Different tags have differing amounts of memory and, obviously, the more memory available, the more things the tag can do. Tags with small amounts of memory may simply store a URL which, when scanned, will open a web page on a phone.

Those with more memory, such as the ones used in smart business cards, can store web addresses, contact information and a company name, for example.

NFC enabled smartphone

As most people have a mobile phone and carry them around most of the time, they are going to be the primary method for using NFC. One of their biggest advantages is that they are able to function as both an active and a passive device, which means they can scan other tags and be scanned themselves.

For example, if you wanted to pay for items using Google Wallet or Apple Pay in a shop, an NFC enabled smartphone would act as the passive device, letting the store’s payment reader retrieve its data during checkout. However, the phone can also be used to scan actively, retrieving information from tags, such as those embedded in posters or smart cards.

Another big advantage of using mobile phones with NFC is that you can download apps which enable you to program tags for your own use. There are no computer coding skills needed to do this; the user-friendly apps just require you to select from a range of options and take care of the programming for you.

The ease with which you can do this brings the usefulness of NFC to anyone who can use a mobile. These apps also tell you how much data you will need to store on a tag and what types of tag have a large enough capacity to hold that data.

So, if you purchased a blank smartcard, these apps would enable you to add things like your contact information and website address to it. When you want to give these details to people, all they’d need to do is tap your smartcard with their phone and the information is sent.

Open apps

There is no need for the receiver to open apps and type in any information, they just need to choose where to store it. It saves them time and, because you don’t need a business card and can use the tag over and over, you save money.

Tags can also be programmed to carry out specific actions on your phone, for example, turning your Wi-Fi on and off, setting alarms, opening applications, adjusting sounds and volume and activating social media. This saves you having to manually undertake these actions yourself as they can all be actioned just by tapping the phone on a tag.

Need to use Google maps in the car? Just program a tag and stick it to the dashboard. In this sense, NFC can be seen as a low-cost technology that can speed up many things you do on a daily basis.

This, however, is only the beginning. As we continue to use more Internet of Things devices around the home and operate them using apps on our phones, we’ll be able to program NFC tags to activate settings on those apps. So, if your lighting is operated by an app, you’ll be able to tap a tag that will active an ‘all lights off’ setting as you leave. How convenient would that be?

Wrapping up

NFC brings many benefits, to both consumers and businesses. It is easy to operate, needing only a simple touch of the two devices; it is highly versatile and can be used for a wide range of applications; the technology it uses follows universally implemented standards and is inherently secure; and it can be used to set up and work with other wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

It’s a small technology with a big future.

Hopefully, you’ll now have a far better understanding of what it is and how it can benefit you.

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