Near field communication (NFC) is a technology that allows smartphones and other mobile devices to communicate directly with each other by touching or coming into close proximity. Alternatively, NFC devices can communicate with non-powered NFC chips, called "tags." NFC technology can be used for data exchange, simplified Wi-Fi setup and transactions with no need for contact.
NFC's roots lie with earlier RFID technology, which uses radio waves to send messages to a passive electronic tag for identification, authentication and tracking purposes. While this communication is strictly one-way, NFC devices are capable of two-way communication with one another. Since NFC can also be used to communicate with passive chips, it has the potential to replace the older technology entirely.
Applications of NFC technology generally focus on bringing together diverse existing technologies to improve access and ease of use. Because NFC can establish connections quickly and with minimal effort, it can rapidly bridge the gap between two other technologies to create a simpler user experience.
Social Networking and Contact Sharing
NFC can be used to share data, including contact information, between two mobile devices. For instance, in social networking situations two NFC users can rapidly share their contacts, photos, videos or other files by just touching their mobile devices together. Likewise, two NFC smartphone users can easily exchange their telephone numbers.
Identification and Access
Because NFC has a short range and supports encryption, it can be used to provide identification or access restricted areas in a manner similar to an electronic identity document or RFID card.
An NFC smartphone's ability to interact with pre-programmed NFC tags or stickers can be used to automate tasks. The tag can be used to automatically send a text message, change phone settings, launch an application or perform any other task of which the NFC app is capable. Since this process does not rely on any particular manufacturer and can be used easily by anyone with an NFC-capable smartphone, it is one of the most universally accessible current applications of the technology.
One of the advantages of NFC technology is its ability to create a low speed connection with minimal time and effort. As such, it can be used to set up more robust connections quickly and efficiently. Smartphone features such as the Android Beam software can automatically set up connections with Bluetooth communication devices such as headsets and speakers. The same process can be used to quickly establish Wi-Fi connections.
Because NFC technology combines ease of use with relative security, it can be used in contactless payment systems such as those used by credit cards. In concert with mobile payment technology, NFC users can bypass these payment systems entirely and process transactions directly with their mobile devices. Applications such as Google Wallet allow users to store credit card, loyalty card or bank account information in a virtual wallet and then use their NFC devices to make payments at terminals that accept PayPass transactions. Service providers worldwide have experimented with NFC technology for ticketing at box offices and public transportation, and many retailers now accept NFC-based payment in lieu of credit or debit cards.
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