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Developments in Near Field Communication

Dr. John Gill
22nd March 2006

Near field communication (NFC) has evolved from a combination of contactless identification (RFID) and interconnection technologies. It enables a user to exchange all kinds of information simply by bringing two devices close together. For instance a mobile phone or PDA (personal digital assistant) could act as a ticket on public transport instead of using a contactless smart card.

In order to make two devices communicate, they need to be brought together (within 10 cm) or make them touch. This will automatically initiate communication between the two devices. Once configuration data has been exchanged, the devices can then set up longer range communication with faster protocols such as Bluetooth or WiFi.

The peer-to-peer communication protocol operates in the unregulated band of 13.56 MHz. Each country imposes limits on the transmitting power that means that NFC devices can have a maximum range of 20 cm. The data transfer rate can be 106, 212 or 424 kbits/sec.

In the active mode of communication both devices generate their own RF (radio frequency) field, but in the passive mode only one device generates the RF field while the other device uses load modulation to transfer the data.

The range of potential applications includes the interconnection of digital cameras, PDAs, set-top boxes, computers and mobile phones. For instance a poster, advertising a concert, could contain a NFC electronic chip. By touching a tag on the poster with a mobile phone, information about the concert could be downloaded to your device. In addition tickets could be directly purchased and stored on your phone handset. At the concert you would only have to touch your phone on a reader at the entrance gate.

At a bus stop, simply touching your mobile phone on a NFC-enabled sign would automatically allow travel information to be read out using the phone speaker. In general this technology could make the user interface on many public terminals significantly easier to use by many people with disabilities.

NFC technology is expected to roll-out quickly since it will be incorporated in many new mobile phones and PDAs. A recent Philips Semiconductor press release predicts that over 50% of all mobile phone handsets will incorporate NFC by 2010.


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