When a technology grows as fast as NFC has in recent years, and where there are multiple companies innovating and developing new applications, there is also a danger that variations creep in that prevent products from different vendors talking to each other. The NFC Forum, as a non-profit industry association that advances the use of Near Field Communication technology, has a goal of facilitating NFC interoperability no matter where the user is in the world.
In the past, in areas like computer and entertainment technology, it was often seen as a good business strategy to ‘trap’ the market into having to keep buying your brand by minimising the connectivity from third party products. While it may work for a time, eventually customers get really hacked off, especially when those third parties start producing far better, and often cheaper, products.
One of the primary objectives of the NFC Forum is to develop standards-based specifications that define interoperability parameters and a modular architecture. Today over 190 of the world’s major consumer and business electronics companies are members of the NFC Forum, committed to ensuring that future developments are truly market driven and designed to advance the adoption of NFC in consumer electronics, mobile devices and PCs.
The NFC Forum also acts as a showcase for new applications and new ideas, a function that itself becomes a catalyst for further ideas and innovation. In practice they are creating a comprehensive road map for the future development of the technology. On their website (http://www.nfc-forum.org) there is a wealth of white papers, videos and discussion groups highlighting the progress being made in different industries in adopting NFC to enhance customer value.
For new entrants and potential users of NFC technology there are excellent resources that explain the technology without the need for any prior knowledge. The main issue for businesses and organisations wanting to enable NFC for their consumers is which tag type to adopt from the many available.
The first decision is whether the tag should be re-writeable or locked. Locked means that once the tag has been encoded (i.e. loaded with data), it is not possible for it to be changed. This would apply to applications like security information, asset numbers and identification cards.
Re-writeable means that the data can be changed as often as required. So, for example, the London Transport Oyster card is continuously updated as money is added by the user and then deducted by the NFC devices that the user ‘taps’.
Then there is the decision, as with any electronic computing device, as to how much memory it will require. A simple locked identity tag will require minimal memory, while a fully interactive transactional tag will require much more.
Many tags won’t work if they are attached directly to metal so, if that is a requirement, special tags are available that provide a shield against the electronic interference.
Then, as with anything customer facing, you will have decide what size is optimal, do you want it branded and how important is the finish.
Assurance is provided by the NFC Forum Certification Program which identifies the specifications that certified devices must comply with. The certification program identifies the authorised test laboratories and approved test tools which are the only source of accreditation. These standards are regularly under review as the technology develops and, because all of the industry leaders are involved ensures that it is a quality mark that really means something for the end user, as well as decision makers along the supply chain.
Below are the four current NFC Forum tag type specifications:
For further information on any aspect of NFC, the NFC Forum website, supported by NFC Direct, is a great place to start, allowing users to benefit from the experience of the many organisations already committed.