One little perk many newer cell phones in America come with is a feature that few know more than the name of. It can do everything from allow the exchange of contact information, pictures and files, direct off-network communications and even allows you to unlock your doors at home, given the right equipment. Called Near Field Communication, also known as NFC; this concept, while not entirely new, is beginning to find a presence in the United States.
NFC is a set of communications protocols that operate similar to Radio Frequency Identification, most commonly known as RFID. RFID is the system that commonly operates the “badge readers” for doors in offices, or those boxes that are attached to windshields to electronically debit tolls from your bank account or credit card.
Most RFID operates between 120kHz and 13.5MHz — fairly low-power, inexpensive and readily deployable with ease; and operate in close proximity to a power source, particularly if the tag that contains the information, authentication or some other information that is to be conveyed, is unpowered.
NFC operates quite similarly. In 2004, Nokia, Philips and Sony created the “Near Field Communications Forum,” a roundtable to discuss a form of communication that could be conducted wirelessly and at proximity, but also be very inexpensive. Two years later, the Nokia 6131 debuted as the first phone with NFC technology, a reader that could detect and read small tags similar to RFID tags, on the device itself — which was able to communicate anything from showtimes from a “smart poster” to allowing an individual to make a purchase with his phone to charge his or her credit card or bank account.
Now gaining ground with American cell phones, popular uses for NFC have been included automation — for example, next to the door on the wall, inside the house, a person may place an NFC tag on the wall to instruct his phone to automatically connect to his home Wifi network, disable GPS and put volume and screen brightness to maximum — or to send an SMS message to someone else to say “I’m home!”
NFC chips can even be programmed for a “Capture the Flag” or a “Follow Me!” style game — where individuals scan tags placed innocuously, similar to a Geocache, that that others scan to check in, or find the next check-in point through a set of communicated instructions.
While NFC is still in its infancy in America, it’s already highly successful in East-Asia as a form of mobile payment and other forms of communications, particularly in conjunction with Wifi — it promises to expand the usability of the smartphone even more than it’s already become.
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