Near Field Communication – What is NFC?

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Last updated April 12, 2019

With the recent launch of Google and Sprint’s US near field communication trials, many questions about NFC have been raised.  What exactly is NFC?  What can it do?  Where did it come from?

The truth is that, despite being a term fairly new to most of us, near field communication is not new technology, but rather the evolution of already existing technology called radio frequency identification, or RFID.  To find RFID in action, one only needs to head to their nearest supermarket or Wal-Mart and look for the intelligent bar codes, or smart labels, on the items there.

The progression and forming of near field communication is overseen by a group called the NFC Forum.  Members include Research in Motion, Google (representing Android), and representatives of other major mobile operating systems as well as reps from a variety of electronics manufacturers.  Notably absent in this group is Apple, who says they are watching the Forum from a distance.

When applied to our cell phones and smartphones, near field communication opens up several avenues of benefit.  The one being discussed the most right now is making payments by swiping your cell phone across an NFC reader.  Other uses include reading imbedded information and transferring data.  Examples of use could include being able to scan a prescription bottle and read facts and warnings about the medication it holds.

Unlike Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, NFC only works in short range, which is part of its attraction as a payment method.  With NFC, there are no worries that someone can tap into it and use it while it’s in your hands.