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Near Field Communication – Here comes the Future

Posted by
19 May 2011

Android has it. Blackberry has it. Nokia has it. Apple is still sitting on the sideline, figuring out exactly how to create just the right balance of controversy and mystique, but they will have it soon (unless they call it something else, and claim it as their own idea).

Whichever way you look at it – very soon a large number of the 5 billion mobile handsets in the world (which, by the way, is more than 4 times the amount of TVs in the world) will have NFC capability.

What does this all mean?

Near Field Communication

Let’s take a step back:

What Is NFC?

NFC, or Near Field Communication, is a set of wireless communication protocols designed to operate across a distance of 4cm or less. You’re probably already using it every day, in one of the following ways:

  • Mobile transport ticketing systems, like London’s Oyster card, or Singapore’s EZ-link card.
  • Contactless Credit Cards, like the latest Barclaycard
  • Users of Streetcar, the UK based on-demand car rental service, lock and unlock cars with a contactless smart card
  • London Cycle Hire scheme membership key

If you are a pet owner, your pet might actually have a passive RFID tag implant, which is used to identify the pet and its medical history. RFID tags are read via NFC.

Why do we need NFC if we have QR codes?

QR codes and NFC share some applications, like smart posters. NFC has a few attributes, though, which extend its possible use far beyond what is possible with QR codes.

  • QR codes always transmit data in one direction only: from the printed medium to the reader. NFC can operate peer-to-peer, where two readers can exchange information.
  • QR codes have no inherent potential for security or privacy. They are always public, unencrypted and easy to copy. NFC is dynamic and volatile, and can thus be encrypted. Even when not encrypted, they are difficult to intercept and can only be intercepted at the time of transmission, within a distance of at most a few meters.
  • QR codes are static. NFC is dynamic, and can thus carry time-dependent information.

This means NFC can completely replace QR codes by being more elegant and invisible, while unlocking a huge potential in commerce, authentication and social media.

The future

Let’s have a look at what your life might look like in a few years’ time:

Cash is for all practical purposes non-existent.

Everywhere you normally would have used cash, you just enter the amount into your mobile phone, and hold your phone against the phone of the person you want to pay. No hard copies of receipts are necessary and any possible tax deductions happen automatically.

When purchasing virtual items, like concert tickets, train tickets or Bitcoin, the items are simply linked to your phone. At the venue door, you gain access by waving your phone. No human required.

On the social side things get even more interesting.

At your local club, you check into FourSquare / Facebook Places / Google Places / [insert future tech here] by waving your phone against a bright yellow reader at the entrance. Your phone tells you who of your friends and connections are already here, and where they are (if the club consists of more than one area that can be checked into). It also tells you who of your friends have indicated that they might be coming tonight, and gives you an option to leave them an automatic message which they will receive as soon as they check in.

You friend and follow new people you meet by touching your phone against theirs, which is also the way you exchange contact information.

You order drinks by waving your phone in front of a menu on the wall. If you see one of your friends having something interesting looking, you wave your phone in front of the glass and it gets ordered.

On your way back home, you try to unlock your car by waving your phone in front of the windscreen. The phone emits an error tone, and tells you that you’ve had one too many – you should rather take a taxi. It asks for your confirmation before automatically ordering a taxi to your exact location. You pay for the taxi with a wave of your phone.

The next morning, you fix yourself a much needed breakfast, tapping each ingredient against your phone. Your phone reports your calorie intake and the nutritional information of your breakfast. Oh yes, and according to its records, you only have three eggs left – should we put it on the list for automatic order and delivery?

The far future

The hardware is not in a phone anymore. It is implanted into you body. You don’t carry any keys, cash, credit cards or mobile devices. All you are is your body.

Every space you visit is littered with hookups onto the network, authenticated by your implanted ID. Hookups don’t speak computer protocol anymore, they speak human – sound, visuals, touch.

The only problem is, it’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between hooked-up reality and offline reality.

But who cares?

Posted by


  • May 22, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Phew, I was glad you added the last bit about implants because I was about to comment that I will be very very worried about losing my mobile phone in the future!

  • Posted by Adriaan Pelzer
    May 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Very True! There will probably be insurance against it – very expensive insurance ;)

  • Posted by Smart Poster
    May 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Great posts, we will soon see NFC Smart Posters appearing and NFC Smart Phone user linking to them and obtaining information

  • Posted by Smart Poster
    May 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Near Field Communication Payments have just started in the UK. This should see a big uptake as consumers realise the value in this technology

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