NFC, which stands for near field communication, is becoming an increasingly popular feature in mobile devices. Essentially, NFC is a type of technology that allows your smartphone or tablet to establish a connection with another device when bringing them into close proximity, typically no more than a few centimetres.

Although this sounds a lot like Bluetooth, which has been a fairly standard feature in the majority of mobile phones for quite some time now, NFC consumes far less power and does not require pairing, with the connection time between devices taking less than a tenth of a second.

History of NFC

In 2002, Sony and Phillips joined forces and agreed to establish a new technology specification and outline relating to NFC. However, it was Nokia that developed the first NFC phone, the 6131, two years later.

But it wasn’t until 2010 that the first commercially available Android NFC smartphone was released – Samsung’s Nexus S. With the backing of Android, major manufacturers started to recognise its potential and NFC’s notoriety began to grow.

Since then, major mobile companies have teamed up with financial institutions to provide NFC payment solutions. In 2011, Research in Motion became the first company to be certified by MasterCard Worldwide, while in 2013 Samsung and Visa announced a major partnership to develop mobile payments.

What can NFC be used for?

So far, NFC has been mainly used in contactless payment systems, just like those you currently find with credit cards and electronic tickets. However, device manufacturers and software developers hope that NFC technology in smartphones and tablets can replace or at least supplement these systems.

One of the most successful NFC payment systems is Google Wallet, which allows customers to store credit and loyalty card information in a virtual wallet. Consumers can use their NFC-enabled device at point of sale terminals that accept MasterCard PayPass transactions.

So far, public transport networks in countries like Japan, Germany, Austria, Italy, Finland and New Zealand have trailed NFC ticketing systems. The Museum of London is just one of many tourist attractions to also utilise NFC so visitors can learn about exhibits, access special vouchers and sign-in to social media sites.

Who has adopted NFC?

The majority of smartphone manufacturers that choose to run Android have adopted NFC, including Google, HTC, LG, Samsung and Sony. Even devices with different operating systems, such as Blackberry and Nokia’s Windows Phones, feature NFC.

However, Apple has so far shunned NFC and has been pursuing other options. Having said that, a recent patent filed by the company described a point-of-sale transaction that uses NFC to establish a secure link with a purchasing device. However, it is believed Apple will eventually establish iBeacon as a wireless electronic wallet system rather than NFC.

On top of that, a report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that Eddy Cue, the company’s senior vice-president of Internet software and services, had met industry executives to discuss how Apple could handle payments for physical goods.

The future of NFC

Even though there are already over 300,000 MasterCard PayPass merchant locations in the US alone, NFC still has a long way to go until widespread adoption. However, with smartphones becoming more advanced and cheaper by the day, even budget devices could soon be equipped with NFC.

There are hundreds of ways to utilise and integrate NFC into daily life, not just as a contactless payment system but also as a way of going through barriers at train stations or discovering information about cinema times from film posters. What’s more, it can potentially replace current technologies such as Bluetooth and QR Codes.

By: Narges Berry