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Near Field Communication (NFC)

What is NFC?

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connectivity technology standard designed for intuitive, simple and safe communication between electronic devices. NFC communication is enabled by bringing two NFC compatible devices within a few centimeters of one another or for the two devices to literally "touch" one another.

NFC is based on inductive-coupling, where loosely coupled inductive circuits share power and data over a distance of a few centimeters. NFC devices share the basic technology with proximity (13.56MHz) RFID tags and contactless smartcards, but have a number of key new features.

NFC devices are naturally interoperable, as NFC is based on pre-existing contactless payment and ticketing standards that are used on a daily basis by millions of people and devices worldwide. These standards determine not only the "contactless" operating environment, such as the physical requirements of the antennas, but also the format of the data to be transferred and the data rates for that transfer.

Operating modes of NFC devices

NFC devices are unique in that they can change their mode of operation to be in reader/writer mode, peer-to-peer mode, or card emulation mode. The different operating modes are based on the ISO/IEC 18092 NFC IP-1 and ISO/IEC 14443 contactless smart card standards.

  • Reader/writer mode
    The NFC device is capable of reading NFC Forum mandated tag types, such as in the scenario of reading an NFC Smartposter tag. The reader/writer mode is on the RF interface compliant to the ISO 14443 and FeliCa schemes
  • Peer-to-Peer mode
    Two NFC devices can exchange data. For example, you can share Bluetooth or WiFi link set up parameters, and exchange data such as virtual business cards or digital photos. Peer-to-Peer mode is standardized on the ISO/IEC 18092 standard
  • Card Emulation mode
    The NFC device itself acts as an NFC tag, appearing to an external reader much the same as a traditional contactless smart card. This enables contactless payments and eticketing, for example

Data transmission rates

NFC data transmission is measured in Kilo Bits Per Second (kbps). The NFC standard supports varying data rates, again to ensure interoperability between pre-existing infrastructure. The current data rates are 106kbps, 212kbps and 424kbps.

Difference between an NFC-enabled device and an NFC tag

An NFC-enabled device can operate in reader/writer and peer-to-peer mode, and may operate in card emulation mode. An NFC tag is typically a passive device (for example, integrated in a smart poster) that stores data that can be read by an NFC-enabled device.

Difference between a card and a tag

A card and a tag are technically the same. However, contactless cards used in ticketing and payment today include additional technology to store secure data.

How is NFC different from or related to other wireless/RF technologies?

NFC is a standards-based, short-range (a few centimeters) wireless connectivity technology that enables simple and safe two-way interactions among electronic devices, allowing consumers to perform contactless transactions, access digital content and connect electronic devices with a single touch.

  • Bluetooth wireless technology was designed to replace cables between cell phones, laptops, and other computing and communication devices within a 10-meter range
  • Wi-Fi technology was designed and optimized for Local Area Networks (LAN); it provides an extension or replacement of wired networks for dozens of computing devices within a +100-meter range
  • ZigBee wireless technology is a standard enabling control and monitoring capabilities for industrial and residential applications within a +100-meter range
  • IrDA is a short range (< 1 meter), line-of-sight communication standard for exchange of data over infrared light. IrDA interfaces are frequently used in computers and mobile phones
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is an automatic identification method, relying on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags. An RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or incorporated into a product. RFID tags contain silicon chips to enable them to receive and respond to queries from an RFID reader/writer
  • Contactless smart cards incorporate a chip (microprocessor) that communicates with a card reader through RFID technology. Examples of contactless smart card communications are ISO/IEC 14443 and FeliCa, which allow communications at distances up to 10 cm

Application areas for NFC

Applications of NFC technology include contactless transactions such as payment and transit ticketing, simple and fast data transfers including calendar synchronization or electronic business cards and access to online digital content.

A wide range of devices and machines are likely to become NFC enabled.

Here are some examples:

  • Mobile phones
  • Turnstiles
  • Parking meters
  • Check-out cash registers or "point-of-sale" equipment
  • ATMs
  • Office, house and garage doors
  • Personal computers
  • Posters, street signs, bus stops, local points of interest (with NFC-readable tags only)
  • Product packaging

NFC technology will allow people to "pick up" information from the environment. NFC technology allows mobile devices to "read" information stored in "tags" on everyday objects. These can be affixed to physical objects such as posters, bus stop signs, street signs, medicines, certificates, food packaging and much more. The tag's position on the object will be highlighted by the NFC Forum "Target Mark".

Here are some examples where NFC technology can help capture information or trigger a chain of events:

  • By adding NFC-compatible "tags" to posters and magazine advertisements, people can read the tags with an NFC-enabled phone and immediately act
  • NFC tags can be used on special documents like parking permits, credit cards and money to prove authenticity. An NFC hologram is copy-resistant and can be cancelled if it is stolen
  • NFC enables simple and easy set-up of connections. For example, to connect a Bluetooth headset to a mobile phone, hold the devices close to each other and the connection automatically starts


NFC Standards are acknowledged by:

  • ISO/IEC (International Organization for Standardization / International Electrotechnical Commission)
  • ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute)
  • ECMA (European association for standardizing information and communication systems)

Further information


The information contained in this section was taken from the following sources: