If you’re not familiar with NFC (Near Field Communication), then it’s perhaps time you were. It’s a form of wireless technology that is bringing benefits to many organisations and their clients and customers, too. Highly versatile, it has almost unlimited applications in a wide variety of fields, including mobile payments, information sharing and healthcare. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at six areas in which it is making a real difference.
What is NFC?
NFC enables secure transactions, data exchange and connections to take place between devices over very short distances. The devices it works with include mobile phones, readers, payment terminals and NFC tags. NFC tags are essentially microchips that can be embedded into things, such as smart cards, key fobs or even labels and stickers. With a range of just 4cm, the devices communicate by swiping, tapping or waving, for example, waving a mobile phone in front of a payment terminal or tapping a smartcard on a reader.
There has been a 200% annual growth rate in the number of NFC devices over the last five years, with an estimated 208 million NFC enabled smartphones currently in operation. These include Android, iOS, Windows and Blackberry models. The use of NFC is also increasing. It is expected that by the end of 2017, 25% of people in the US and Europe will have paid for products in-store using NFC smartphones, with a total annual spend of around £138 billion.
The benefits of NFC go beyond business, however; it is used in healthcare, education and public services, too. Here are six areas in which it is making a very big contribution.
- Mobile payments
NFC offers consumers an easy and secure way to pay for goods and services using their mobile phones. In-store payments can be done simply by opening a mobile wallet and tapping a phone on the payment terminal. Doing this enables payment credentials to be retrieved and securely transmitted, via NFC, to the payment terminal. It’s very similar to using a credit or debit card with the added advantage that the customer can also store and use coupons and discount codes which can be used at the checkout.
The benefits brought by NFC payments has resulted in a 49%, year on year growth in the number of NFC POS terminals. It is estimated that in the EU, 78% of terminals will be NFC enabled by the end of 2017. With Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay all enabling NFC payment, this is set to rise even more.
- Data Sharing
NFC also enables data sharing in a similar way to Bluetooth technology. Simply by waving phones at each other, users can share their contact details, photos, videos and files. It can also be used for reviews too. Users can leave their review of a place with an NFC tag which other visitors can read with their NFC-enabled devices.
Data sharing also makes NFC a convenient way to backup data from one device to another; and as it’s done in close proximity and doesn’t need an internet connection, it incredibly secure.
Beyond this, NFC can be used for entertainment purposes. For example, people will be able to initiate multi-player games just by bringing their devices close together.
Mobile phones and smart cards, like those produced by Universal Smart Cards, are revolutionising how we travel as they can be used to store bus, train and tube tickets. You just need to wave your phone or card to use it. This has become such a convenient way to purchase and use tickets that it is now being used in some of the world’s major cities, such as Madrid, Milan, Moscow, New Jersey, and Tokyo.
It is also being used for festivals, theme parks and events where it can help with both ticketing, reservations and in creating a cashless environment.
- Identity verification
Besides storing your payment details, NFC enabled devices can also be used for storing personal identification for authentication and access control use. In this sense, a mobile phone or smart card can act as an electronic ID document and even as a key. Information such as passwords, names and addresses, and even biometric data can be securely stored and used to validate an individual’s identity.
In the future, we may even see NFC-enabled devices replacing driving licences, passports and employee ID with the stored biometric data used to ensure that the person using the device is who they purport to be.
- Information sharing
NFC stickers enable businesses to put tags on posters, products, POS materials and other signs virtually anywhere, creating countless possibilities for localised information sharing. Users simply need to wave their phone near a tag and they can receive information instantly.
Tags on car showroom windows, for example, let passers-by watch promotional videos, download brochures or book a test drive. They can also be used to give visitors to art galleries and historical attractions more details about exhibits, or let people passing an advertisement poster in a public place order a product or purchase a ticket. Going down the escalator on the London underground can now become a shopping or learning experience.
Another area in which NFC is proving very useful is in healthcare. It is now possible to store medical records on a phone and then share them with healthcare professionals. For example, patients can record their heart rate on a Fitbit, save the data on a phone app and then share it with their doctor. In Holland, this form of sharing is already in use. Over 50,000 district nurses now use NFC to help manage home healthcare visits.
NFC technology is already having a significant impact on many things we do in our daily lives and has enormous potential to do so much more. It solves problems and opens opportunities for businesses, organisations and for individuals. It’s no surprise some are referring to it as one of the greatest technological wonders around today.