Near Field Communication (NFC)

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What is Near Field Communication (NFC)?

Near field communication (NFC) definition is a low-power, short-range wireless communication technology that enables two NFC-compatible devices in very close proximity to exchange data or power. The effective operating distance is usually within 4 centimeters (1.5 inches). NFC chips, also called tags, do not require Internet access.

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Near field communication is considered more user-friendly than Bluetooth because it is frictionless, meaning it requires no manual pairing – devices simply need to be brought close together to connect. Additionally, NFC is significantly more energy-efficient than Bluetooth.

NFC is an extension of radio frequency identification (RFID) and is backward-compatible with existing RFID technology.

What is Near Field Communication (NFC)?

Key Takeaways

  • Near field communication is a low-power wireless technology to transmit data over short distances.
  • NFC functions include secure transactions, device pairing, and data sharing.
  • NFC is based on RFID technology.
  • Near field communication is more energy-efficient than Bluetooth.
  • NFC is generally secure due to its short range and encryption for secure transactions.

History of NFC

Charles Walton is credited with inventing RFID in 1983, which is the basis for NFC technology.

Notable NFC history highlights include:

1983: Charles Walton files the first RFID patent.

2002: Sony and NXP co-invented NFC technology.

2003: ISO approves the NFC standard.

2004: Nokia, Sony, and Philips adopt NFC.

2006: First NFC tags produced.

2010 – present: NFC sees widespread adoption from peer-to-peer (P2P) applications to mobile phones.

How NFC Works

NFC uses short-range inductive coupling to transfer energy between two coils via a shared magnetic field. This means that when two NFC-enabled devices are near each other, they generate a magnetic field that induces a wireless electric current for data or power transfer. NFC operates at 13.56 MHz with data rates up to 424 Kbit/s, based on RFID standards (ISO/IEC 18092).

NFC has several different operating modes:

NFC has several different operating modes:

Card emulation mode
Transfers data one way to a reader, e.g., contactless tickets.

P2P mode
Enables two-way communication, allowing devices to send and read data.

Reader/writer mode
Supports one-way communication, either reading or writing data.
Wireless charging mode
Transfers up to 1W of power over 2 cm to charge small devices.

What is NFC Used For?

What is the NFC function? NFC is primarily used to enable secure transactions, simplify device pairing, and facilitate data sharing. This technology supports contactless payments and wireless charging for wearables.

Common uses include:

  • Access control for buildings/hotels
  • Contactless payments
  • Mobile event tickets
  • Pairing devices
  • Public transit fares

Which Phones Have NFC?

NFC phones are modern smartphones equipped with near field communication technology, enhancing functionality for tasks like contactless payments and data transfer.

Popular phones with NFC include:

Other phone brands with NFC capabilities include Nokia, Sony Xperia, and Huawei.

What Can NFC Do on My Phone?

A common use of NFC technology on your phone is making contactless payments with a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay. Digital wallets use NFC to securely transmit payment information to the terminal and complete the transaction instantly.

You can also use NFC on your phone to unlock doors equipped with NFC readers, pay public transit fares, pair with Bluetooth devices, and charge small devices, like earbuds.

NFC vs. Bluetooth & RFID & UWB

NFCBluetoothRFIDUWB

Range: Very short distances, typically up to 4 centimeters.

Data Transfer Speed: Up to 424 Kbit/s.​

Security: Generally secure due to short range;  supports encryption for transactions.

Range: Longer range, up to 100 meters with Bluetooth 5.0​.

Data Transfer Speed: Up to 2 Mbit/s with Bluetooth 5.0​

Security: Modern versions offer strong encryption; older versions may be vulnerable.

Range:

  • Active RFID can reach up to 100 meters.
  • Passive RFID: Up to 25 meters.

Data Transfer Speed:

  • Active RFID: 128 Kbit/s to 512 Kbit/s or higher.
  • Passive: 26 Kbit/s to 128 Kbit/s.

Security:

  • Active RFID can incorporate encryption for enhanced security.
  • Passive RFID is generally less secure.

Range: Effective within 10 to 30 meters.

Data Transfer Speed: Up to several hundred Mbit/s.

Security: High security with support for secure ranging protocols.

NFC Example

An example of NFC is Touch ‘n Go (TNG) NFC cards, widely used in Malaysia for contactless payments for public transit, tolls, parking, and retail. You can load a TNG NFC card and manage the balance via a smartphone with NFC capabilities.

To reload a TNG NFC card, use the Touch ‘n Go eWallet app, which simplifies adding funds by tapping the card on the phone. You can buy TNG NFC cards at various outlets, including convenience stores and online platforms like the official Touch ‘n Go website.

NFC Security Risks

Data corruption
Tampering with the data being transferred.

Eavesdropping
Intercepting data during NFC communication.

Lost or stolen device
Unauthorized access of the device.
Relay attacks
Relaying communication between two parties.
Unauthorized transactions
Accidental or malicious transactions without consent.

NFC Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Contactless payments and transactions
  • Instantly share files, contacts, and links
  • Low power consumption
  • Simple pairing with Bluetooth devices

Cons

  • Limited Range
  • Not all devices support NFC
  • Slower data transfer compared to other technologies
  • Vulnerable to eavesdropping and relay attacks

The Bottom Line

The NFC meaning is a low-power, short-range wireless communication technology operating at 13.56 MHz with data rates up to 424 Kbit/s. Due to its short range (within 4 centimeters), NFC is generally secure and supports encryption, making it convenient for contactless mobile payments and data transfer. Not all phones are NFC-enabled, so be sure to check an online NFC phone list, such as the one offered by NFCDirect.

FAQs

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Vangie Beal
Technology Expert
Vangie Beal
Technology Expert

Vangie Beal is a digital literacy instructor based in Nova Scotia, Canada, who has recently joined Techopedia. She’s an award-winning business and technology writer with 20 years of experience in the technology and web publishing industry.  Since the late ’90s, her byline has appeared in dozens of publications, including CIO, Webopedia, Computerworld, InternetNews, Small Business Computing, and many other tech and business publications.  She is an avid gamer with deep roots in the female gaming community and a former Internet TV gaming host and games journalist.