What is NFC? Powerful things to know about NFC technology

by Surya Prakash

Field Communication, or NFC, is commonly used on smartphones these days. Mobile payment apps like Samsung Pay and Google Pay use NFC. Basically, it’s a proximity-based wireless communication standard. NFC interaction, however, is extremely short in range compared to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Smartphones aren’t the only devices that support NFC; tablets, speakers, collectibles, and gaming consoles, such as the Nintendo and 3DS, are all supported.

Despite its short range, NFC is still an extremely useful feature that we take for granted daily despite its lack of range on paper. The purpose of this article is to examine how NFC works by taking a quick look at it. In addition, we will discuss how the technology is likely to be applied in the real world in the future.

Do you know how NFC works and what it is?

NFC is already outlined in a brief answer, but how does it work? In terms of technology, NFC isn’t anything new. The technology is just the evolution of RFID (radio frequency identification), which has been around for decades. How a key card works are already familiar to anyone who has used one to access a hotel room or office building.

For short-range deployments, RFID and NFC both depend on inductive coupling. An electric current runs through a coil of the reader device in order to generate a magnetic field. Induced by the electromagnetic field, a tag (with its own coil) can generate an electric current without wires or physical contact. A wireless connection is established between the tag and the reader after the initial handshake.

As an alternative to RFID, NFC uses a much lower transmission range than that RFID.

NFC is often used over longer distances than RFID due to its long transmission range. Road tolls, for instance, are collected automatically through RFID in some regions. In most cases, toll tags are attached to the windshield of vehicles, so you just need to drive through the booth. A powered RFID tag can communicate over even longer distances (think a hundred feet or more).

A few centimeters is the maximum distance NFC can reach. In some smartphone applications, the software only initiates communication when a physical connection is established. Especially now that sensitive data is being transferred, this is important to prevent accidental triggers.

It is also important to note that NFC devices can function as either readers or tags. The bidirectional capability of a device such as a smartphone enables you to use it for a wide range of different tasks.

Does NFC come with all smartphones?

Several years have passed since NFC was first introduced to western markets on smartphones. Originally introduced in 2010, the Nexus S was the first Android device to support it. It didn’t take Apple long to embrace the technology – NFC is now a part of every iPhone since the 6. It is also incorporated into wearable devices, such as fitness trackers like the Mi Band and smartwatches like the Apple Watch.

NFC is now available on the majority of smartphones and wearables.

NFC is primarily found on lower-end devices these days. It should be noted, however, that NFC’s importance may vary based on the region. Because the technology is not widely adopted in certain markets, such as India, some manufacturers omit the coil.

How can you use NFC?

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the adoption of NFC. The technology has been used in a variety of applications, including:

  • Android Beam was introduced in 2011 with the release of the Android Ice Cream Sandwich. By using the feature, you could transfer data or content from your screen to another NFC-enabled device. It took only a touch of the back of both devices to accept the prompt for the transfer. It is only recently that Android Beam has been abandoned in favor of Nearby Share, a technology that uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct instead.
  • You can make contactless payments using your smartphone’s NFC chip with Samsung Pay, Google Pay, and Apple Pay. There is already an NFC tag integrated into most debit and credit cards these days. Apps such as the ones mentioned above simply emulate these tags with permission from their issuing banks. Simply place your smartphone or wearable device near the card reader once it has been configured.

NFC is used to facilitate contactless payments through apps such as Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

  • In addition to devices with screens, NFC offers the convenience of quick pairing. Your smartphone uses it to exchange pairing information with wireless speakers and headphones. It is also used by some cameras to establish a quick Wi-Fi Direct connection to transfer photos and videos.
  • NFC-based cards are used in many cities, including Hong Kong, Singapore, and London, to control access to public transportation. In some cases, you don’t even have to carry your card around because they are compatible with payment apps like Google Pay.

  • Video games are connected to physical toys through Nintendo’s technology. Unlike traditional action figures and trading cards, Amiibos are embedded with an NFC chip. It automatically adds characters, levels, or bonus items to a game when you bring it near a Nintendo Switch or 3DS.

Compared to Bluetooth and UWB, how does NFC fare?

Wireless communication protocols are not limited to NFC. It’s not uncommon for devices to already include Bluetooth and ultra-wideband (UWB) technologies. Is there a reason to include another?

The most significant advantage of NFC is that it does not require pairing or manual input to connect – tapping takes less than a second. The pairing process for Bluetooth devices is a little cumbersome, by contrast.

Additionally, NFC uses significantly less energy than Bluetooth and UWB due to its concise transmission range. It is often recommended to turn off Bluetooth when conserving battery life on smartphones that ship with NFC radios enabled by default.


Moreover, with so many NFC use cases already fleshed out, it’s clear that the technology has found a niche that it can occupy on its own and gain traction. Hence, moving forward, adoption is likely to only continue to improve, as more people become aware of the technology.

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