How NFC is Changing Our Lives


Meet the three letters that are heralding a revolution in the way we shop, pay, and commute – NFC. They stand for near field communication, a smart piece of technology that can turn our cell phones into wallets and may make purses, credit cards, and cash redundant.

But that’s not all.  NFC is much bigger than just being a smart new payment system.  In the near-term at least it allows us to interact better with our physical environment.  NFC-enabled devices can pull information off tags on objects, thereby bridging the gap between digital and physical worlds. We become hyperlinked to our surroundings.

The aim is to make our lives more convenient by improving how we make transactions, connect to devices, and exchange content.

The Next Big Thing

For years NFC has been the next big thing. Even though it’s fitted as standard in most smartphones, consumers have yet to take it to heart.  However, according to many within the mobile industry that will soon change.

That’s largely due to the technology’s many possible applications.  These include mobile payment, data transfer, ticketing, key cards, electronic identity documents, and access to information.

What is NFC?

The core technology is simple – it’s a short range wireless link, using radio frequencies. It enables small packets of data to be shared between two NFC-enabled devices over a distance of less than 10 centimeters.

From a user’s perspective an NFC device has two components – a reader and a tag.  A tag can contain information, such as text, maps, and URLS. And a reader is exactly that.

Unlike other mobile communications technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, NFC can communicate with non-powered devices.  There are three operational modes:

Tag Read/Write – your device can communicate with tags on posters or products.

Peer-to-peer – two NFC-enabled devices generate their own RF (radio frequency) fields allowing them to exchange data.

Secure Card Emulation – this supports a ‘secure element’ allowing a mobile phone to be used to pay for goods and services.

The promise and potential of this relatively new technology is proving to be an ideal ground for start-ups, with new companies emerging all the time.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Tapestry is a UK-based start-up that is currently piloting its Tapestry app in a Diesel store in West London.  Shoppers tap their cell phones on NFC stickers on clothes and digital content about the item such as photos and sizing and color are displayed on the app. In this way shoppers are able to create a wish list of items.

Social Passport marries social media with NFC to allow users to instantly like, follow, and check-in with their phone when they visit a store.  All they do is tap the phone against a store window or signage.  Additionally, they can be rewarded with coupons on deals for using social media.  The advantage for retailers is that they can get real-time access to consumers’ social media networks and therefore communicate deals to a much larger audience.

Ubiquitous Technology?

NFC technology is still largely in the trial phase, but according to ABI research it will be commonplace by the year 2017.  By then, the technology market research firm predicts that 395 million devices will be NFC enabled.  In other words it will be everywhere.