A Contactless Future

In recent years, we've seen a dramatic rise in the popularity, and indeed awareness of consumer technology. Smartphones are in the pockets of over 30 million people in the UK. That's half the population. It's a surprising statistic that at the same time, seems wholly credible given the number of devices we see every day. Rarely is it possible to catch a bus, shop for groceries or simply walk in the park without seeing a number of people stood transfixed, smartphone in hand, gaze locked to the display. With good reason, too. Smartphones have reached a level where they offer a number of tools and features that aid us in our daily tasks. From to-do lists and calendars, to fitness trackers and recipe books, there is, as they say, an app for that.

Two technologies set to again revolutionise the way in which we use our devices are Near Field Communication, or NFC, and RFID or Radio Frequency Identification. Both offer a method of wireless interaction between devices which opens up many possibilities in a number of markets. A shift in focus toward implementation of these technologies in our mobile devices could mean they become household names sooner, rather than later.

NFC is effectively a developed subset of RFID, designed to allow contact-less communication between two mobile devices. Whist both technologies are based on radio-frequency transmission, there are some fundamental differences between the two:

Range - 

RFID can operate at a distance of up to 100 metres, although the frequency band differs, dependent on range. Data transfer is faster at higher range, although the tag cost also increases for longer range applications. NFC operates over short distances, up to a maximum of around 10 centimetres, ideal for mobile devices, and payment cards.

Data Transfer - 

RFID is strictly limited to processing data in one direction. This means that one device acts as the tag 'reader', and retrieves information from the tags. NFC, on the other hand, is capable of transfer in both directions, meaning that each device can send, and receive data.

Interoperability - 

NFC-enabled devices are also capable of reading passive RFID tags. This means that multiple, low cost tags designed to be 'read only' can be distributed and utilised by NFC-ready smartphones, whereas RFID readers are limited to reading the respective RFID tags.

As our lives become ever busier, and our need to process transactions both monetary and data-based increases, NFC will become a technology we come to love and rely on, just like the smartphones we use today.