Fundamentals of Near Field Communications

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless technology that enables the communication between devices over a distance of less than 10 cm. NFC technology allows the transfers of small amounts of data via Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) transponders between various types of devices. NFC is a standards- based connectivity technology offering universal access to diverse contactless devices, enabling current advances and a future internet of things.

Similar to proximity card technology, NFC uses magnetic induction between two loop antennas located within each other's near field, effectively forming an air-core transformer. It operates within the globally available and unlicensed radio frequency Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band. These communication modes are core to how a smart phone or other NFC enabled device is able to interact with a new set of devices just by being in the vicinity of the device.

Typical Applications that Use NFC Technologies

NFC devices can be used in a variety of contactless payment systems, similar to those currently used in credit cards and electronic ticket smartcards, and allow mobile payment to replace or supplement these systems. For example, Google Wallet allows consumers to store credit card and store loyalty card information in a virtual wallet and then use an NFC-enabled device at terminals that also accept MasterCard PayPass transactions. Other applications include (1) Monitoring, Access control and security (2) Consumer electronics (3) Automation and manufacturing work flow (4) Healthcare (5) Payment Systems (5) Transportation & Automotive.

Benefits of Using NFC Technology

NFC interactions require a simple touch to establish communication and are well suited for a broad range of industries, environments, and uses. NFC implements universal standards like ISO, ECMA, and ETSI and finds applicability in secure applications and affords a fast setup of wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. The architecture and built-in capabilities of NFC create a several benefits to device designers and manufacturers: 

  • Ease of Use: Unlike Bluetooth or 802.11 solutions, NFC-enabled devices don't have to be set up to work with each other. They connect via a simple tap. The motion of tapping simplifies the often tedious connection process between devices and removes much of the human interaction and errors in Bluetooth and 802.11setup.

  • Smart Objects: NFC can be applied in similar applications as bar codes. For example, an NFC device can be embedded in a poster or display case and allow pedestrians to scan/tap on their phones for more information. Such device integrations open up a plethora of applications in a wide variety of industries from advertising, to control systems and retail shopping.

  • Cost and Ease of Monitoring: Monitoring workflow processes, surveillance and a variety of sensing applications are often prohibitively expensive to implement. NFC, integrations can be fast, simple and cheap. This allows for an elevated control of various industrial and commercial processes and more efficient manufacturing operations. More importantly, all phases of an operation can be cost-effectively monitored in real-time.

    NFC Standards

    The NFC standard is defined in ISO/IEC 18092. ISO 18092 standard defines communication modes for NFC Interface and Protocol. NFC operates at 13.56 MHz and supports the existing ISO/IEC standards 14443 (Types A/B/FeliCa) and 15693 (tags). NFC transmits at rates ranging from 106kbit/s to 424kbit/s using ISO, ECMA, and ETSI standards. This data throughput is slightly slower than a Bluetooth link. ISO 14443 is a four-part international standard for contact-less smart cards operating at 13.56 MHz in close proximity with a reader antenna.

    NFC Modes

    An NFC device can work in two ways: active, which is battery powered and passive, which is radio energy, powered. In addition, NFC always involves both an initiator and a target. The initiator generates an RF field that can power a passive target. This enables NFC targets to take on non-battery operated, simple form-factors such as tags, stickers, key fobs, or cards.

o Active communication mode: Both initiator and target device communicate by alternately generating their own fields. A device deactivates its RF field while it is waiting for data. In this mode, both devices typically have power supplies. 

o Passive communication mode: The initiator device provides a carrier field and the target device answers by modulating the existing field. In this mode, the target device may draw its operating power from the initiator-provided electromagnetic field, thus making the target device a transponder.

o Peer-to-Peer Mode: is defined for device to device link-level communication. In this mode devices share information between two NFC devices.

o Card Emulation Mode: allows the NFC- handset behave as a standard Smartcard. This mode is secure and is supported by the Contactless Communication API. The NFC device behaves exactly like a contactless card and can be used in transport fare payment systems based on MiFare, Calypso or FeliCa as well as open banking payment systems based on Visa payWave, MasterCard PayPass or American Express ExpressPay

o Read/Write Mode: allows applications for the transmission of NFC Forum-defined messages. Note that this mode is not secure. This mode is supported the Contactless Communication API. The NFC device is active and reads a passive RFID tag; for example reading and storing a Web address or coupon from a poster for interactive advertising.

NFC Tags

The NFC Forum has mandated four tag types to be operable with NFC devices. NFC tags contain data and are typically read-only but may be rewriteable. They can be custom-encoded by their manufacturers or use the specifications provided by the NFC Forum, an industry association charged with promoting the technology and setting key standards. The tags can securely store personal data such as debit and credit card information, loyalty program data, Password Identification Number (PIN) and networking contacts, among other information. This is the backbone of interoperability between different NFC tag providers and NFC device manufacturers to ensure a consistent user experience.

NFC Forum Type 1 Tag Operation Specification: Type 1 Tag is based on ISO/IEC 14443A. Tags are read and re-write capable; users can configure the tag to become read-only. Memory availability is 96 bytes and expandable to 2 Kbyte. 

  • NFC Forum Type 2 Tag Operation Specification: Type 2 Tag is based on ISO/IEC 14443A. Tags are read and re-write capable; users can configure the tag to become read-only. Memory availability is 48 bytes and expandable to 2 Kbyte.

  • NFC Forum Type 3 Tag Operation Specification: Type 3 Tag is based on the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 6319-4, also known as FeliCa. Tags are pre-configured at manufacture to be either read and re-writable, or read-only. Memory availability is variable, theoretical memory limit is 1MByte per service.

  • NFC Forum Type 4 Tag Operation Specification 2.0 (November 2010): Type 4 Tag is fully compatible with the ISO/IEC 14443 standard series. Tags are pre-configured at manufacturing to be either read and re-writable, or read-only. The memory availability is variable, up to 32KBytes per service; the communication interface is either Type A or Type B compliant. 

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