What is NFC
NFC is the abbreviation for Near Field Communication.
Essentially, this is a way for your phone to interact with something very close by. It works in a radius of about 4 cm and provides a wireless connection between your device and another. This enables bidirectional communication, whereby both devices involved can send and receive information.
NFC is widespread in the US and Europe, and chances are you’ve been using NFC for years without realizing it.
Do you know the three curved lines on your credit or debit card that allow you to make contactless payments almost anywhere these days? Well, that’s NFC. The first retail chain to introduce NFC was Eat in 2008. Now the same technology is available on most Android smartphones. Essentially, this means that you can use NFC-based services for many practical, everyday uses.
How does NFC work?
NFC sends or receives data using radio waves. It is an established standard for wireless communication. It differs from Bluetooth in that it works through electromagnetic induction. This means that there can be a passive device like a poster or sticker that doesn’t require its own power source that can transmit data when it is in contact with an active device like your smartphone.
As an active NFC device, a smartphone can send and receive data via NFC. It covers the entire range – three modes – of NFC:
- Reader / writer (e.g. for reading tags in NFC posters).
- Card emulation (e.g. for making payments).
- Peer-to-peer (e.g. for file transfers that will no longer be used from 2021).
How to use the NFC function on your smartphone
If you happen to own a mid-range or high-end smartphone, chances are it is equipped with the NFC feature. However, you need to make sure that you have the feature enabled for it to work seamlessly. Once NFC is enabled, how you use it depends on what you want to do with it.
For example, if you want to connect your NFC-enabled smartphone to an NFC-enabled wireless speaker, all you have to do is tap a specific area of the speaker with your phone and the connection will be established automatically. That brings us to the various real-world use cases of NFC.
Let’s take a quick look at some of them.
What is NFC used for?
NFC has been around for more than a decade, and for the same reason, some of the things it might do are no longer relevant.
For example, file transfers were a thing with NFC when it was new. However, in 2021, there are faster, easier ways to transfer peer-to-peer files, and nobody is using NFC for that purpose anymore. Here are some areas where NFC will continue to be used in 2021.
The most common way consumers use NFC is by making tap-to-go payments. Leading payment services, including Google Play, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, use NFC for cashless payments in several countries around the world. With all of these payment services, the user only needs to add their card number (s) to the app.
Next time you want to pay quickly, all you have to do is tap the NFC tag. Payment should be made almost immediately. NFC payments are secure, and most of these services require you to add a PIN to complete a transaction.
Establish a connection with NFC tags
NFC tags are small physical “tags” or “stickers” containing NFC chips that can be programmed to deliver any type of information to your smartphone. Typically, an NFC tag contains links to a web address. However, it can also be set to perform certain actions on your smartphone, such as: B. switch on the WLAN or reduce the ringtone. Compared to the current QR technology, NFC has the advantage that no “scanner app” is required: the information is available immediately.
In theory, these tags could be embedded in just about anything. For example, an NFC tag could be used in a restaurant menu to make the latest version instantly available on your phone. All you have to do is get your smartphone close to the physical menu and you may be able to browse more detailed information on specific menu items like nutritional values or ingredients.
For personal use, NFC tags can also be set up to control devices from your phone. For example, if you scan a day with your phone, your PC might boot up, or you might have a day on your bedside table that will automatically switch your phone to night mode.
If you want to experiment with NFC tags, nothing prevents you from buying some NFC stickers and playing with the possibilities.
Connect to devices, wearables and accessories
In recent years, the number of people who use accessories that are often connected to their smartphone for various purposes has increased dramatically. For example, you might have a bluetooth speaker and smartwatch at home. You may already know how annoying it is sometimes to connect these devices to your smartphone via bluetooth.
This is where NFC can be useful. If both devices (your smartphone and the peripheral device) support NFC, the connection can be established in seconds with a single tap. Some smartwatch and fitness ban models also support NFC for quick and easy pairing.
Unlock car doors and houses
With a new use case for NFC first unveiled in 2020, users can only unlock car doors with an NFC-enabled smartphone. The technology was announced by Apple in collaboration with BMW and debuted with the BMW 5 Series in 2021.
As you may have guessed, once your car is set up and activated, all you need to do is tap the door handle (which has an embedded NFC chip) and the door will unlock with no need for a key.
The same principle can be used to unlock the doors of your house with just your smartphone or an NFC-enabled key.
Does my smartphone support NFC?
Most high-end and upper mid-range smartphones offer NFC support. However, some Asian manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Huawei have stopped shipping smartphones with NFC capabilities as market dynamics increasingly favor QR codes over NFC in countries where these brands are popular.
To find out if your phone supports NFC, go to Settings> Connected devices> Connection settings (in stock Android) and see if there is an NFC option hidden there.
Some older devices have a small NFC logo on the back. However, this is very rarely the case in 2021. You can also type NFC in the search bar in the Settings menu and see if there are any NFC entries on your phone.
Is NFC safe, are there any disadvantages?
NFC communication takes place via radio, and there is no real protection against eavesdropping and so-called man-in-the-middle attacks. However, because of the proximity that is required for NFC to work, these vulnerabilities are not that big of a concern.
After all, a thief has to be only a few inches away from your device to scan your data via NFC. When you use services like Google Pay and Apple Pay, you can be sure that your credit card number will never be transferred. Instead, a unique digital account number is used to identify your payment details.
There you have it. NFC is the fastest way to make connections between electronic devices and is the fastest way to transfer files between nearby handsets. NFC is great when you run out of credit, run out of data, or don’t have a WiFi or network operator signal. It’s quick, easy, and fun to hit two phones together (maybe not so much during a pandemic!)
But there are also some disadvantages. We have listed a few below:
- Not all smartphones support NFC.
- NFC has not found widespread use in Asian markets, where QR codes are still popular.
- NFC chips aren’t all in the same place, which leads to some exploratory rubbing between devices.
- NFC is too slow for peer-to-peer file transfers, and newer, faster methods are now available.
Do you use NFC on your smartphone? What use did you find for it? Let us know!
This article was last updated in May 2021. Older comments have been retained.