“This is a significant milestone in developing the market for NFC,” says Felix Marx, Director of Marketing for MST Contactless and Embedded Security at Philips Semiconductors.
According to Marx, the technology’s strength lies in its ability to enable other wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or ZigBee. NFC, which works over short distances of about five centimeters (two inches), can be used to transfer Bluetooth or WLAN configuration data to a mobile device.
“The advantage is really the user experience, the simplicity,” Marx says. “It’s very easy to do.”
Instead of scrolling through menus and entering data to connect to a network, a user could join a wireless network simply by bringing their NFC-enabled device within range of another device on the network. “You just touch and go, basically,” Marx says. “You bring two devices close to each other — and you establish a service which can then work over a longer range.”
In the same way, NFC can be used to transmit mobile payments for everything from banking to movie tickets. “You have the payment functionality in your mobile phone, you bring it close to a contactless point of sale terminal, and all your payment information is transferred by NFC in a very natural and simple way,” Marx says.
Any sensitive payment data is then protected on two levels — both by the device’s own encryption methods, and by the short range of the technology.
“You need to be as close as five centimeters to another NFC device to have the communication established,” Marx says. “If you want to communicate over a longer distance, then you need to enable, via NFC, another wireless connectivity method.”
NFC’s limited range also helps to ensure privacy. Over such a short distance, Marx says, it’s unlikely that the technology could be used to deliver unwanted advertising to your mobile device. “If, for instance, you would like to read from a poster with an RFID tag in it to get access to certain services or information … you need to go there, you need to present your phone, you need to show the intention that you want to receive the data — and then you get it,” he says.
Marx says the first NFC-enabled devices should be available in Europe in time for Christmas, with later deployments planned for the U.S. and Asia in the first quarter of 2005.
The biggest challenge, he says, will lie in ensuring that all the necessary partners, from credit card companies to content providers, are in place to enable use of the technology. “[Those agreements] are currently being established, and the first deployments we will see in Europe fourth quarter this year will involve banking, as well as content providers, network operators, service providers, and handset manufacturers,” Marx says.
Philips was one of the three founding members (along with Sony and Nokia) of the NFC Forum in March of this year. Like many such industry groups, the forum was created to promote the technology and to encourage the development of related standards. Their description of NFC, along with a related white paper, can be viewed on the forum’s Web site.
What makes NFC attractive, Marx says, is the fact that it can be used to enable so many types of transactions. He stresses the point that it isn’t going to supplant other wireless technologies — it just makes them easier to use.
“With my laptop at the airport, I can just present it to an access point,” he says. “Simply by presenting it, it’s configured — and I can surf the Internet.”