Whatever the size, shape or material of your Contactless tag or sticker, at its heart you will find the chip. Also referred to as an IC (integrated circuit), this is essentially a miniature electronic storage device which holds data and communicates it to compatible Contactless readers.
The chip is made up of storage – sort of like a tiny USB stick or memory card – connected to an antenna which can transmit the stored data to an NFC reader. The key thing that makes NFC chips work is the fact that – unlike pretty much any other electronic device in existence – they do not need a power supply. That means nothing to plug in, nothing to charge up, and no battery to run low. Instead, the small amount of power required is drawn from the phone or other Contactless reader via the NFC process itself. Clever, right?
So how can you choose between the different chips on the market? The main thing to think about is the usable storage space, which needs to be large enough to cope with the amount and type of data you want the tag to hold. There’s more detail on memory capacities below.
Other factors include scan accuracy, transfer speed, cryptography support, standards compliance and other factors which may be important for specific applications. As with most technology, there is often a trade-off to be made between the various specifications and features of NFC chips and their unit costs – so it always pays to work out exactly what you need in advance.
If you’ve got any questions about which chip is right for you, just ask – that’s what we’re here for! We’re always happy to share our NFC expertise.
2. Storage space
You may be used to USB sticks and hard drives with storage capacities of many megabytes or gigabytes. The same principle applies to NFC tags/products, but their much smaller scale means that their storage is measured simply in bytes.
One byte is roughly equivalent to one character of text. So a web address (URL) might take up about 17 bytes, for example, while a vCard (electronic business card) would use around 153 bytes.
Unfortunately, however, it’s not quite as simple as looking at the size of your data and working out whether it will fit within the total memory of a chip. That’s because there will always be some of a chip’s storage used up on the hidden data that makes Contactless communication work.
You can think of it like this web page: in addition to the words you’re reading, there’s also lots of hidden html code to make sure your browser knows how to display it properly. In the case of NFC tags/products there is always some data that is ‘hard coded’ onto the chip (such a unique chip ID), and more hidden data to identify what the chip contains (i.e. whether it’s a URL, a vCard, etc). Different chips may have different amounts of hidden data.
For this reason, you need to check what’s sometimes called the ‘user’ or ‘usable’ memory of an NFC chip, bearing in mind the particular requirements of your Contactless application.
If you’re concerned about how small the memory space of NFC chips seems to be, it’s worth remembering that this technology is generally best used in conjunction with a central database, where lots more information can easily be stored, loaded and updated. An NFC chip might, for example, contain just a product ID code. A Contactless reader can then use that code to look up lots more information about that product – such as its name, price, dimensions, or even pictures and videos. It wouldn’t be possible – or even desirable – for the NFC chip to contain all of this information.
If you’re not sure how much storage you will need, we’ll be happy to advise you.
3. The NTAG21x Family – a coming of age for NFC
The launch of the NTAG21x family of tags from global leaders NXP, marks a further milestone in the maturity of the NFC ecosystem. No longer a technology with boundless theoretical potential, NFC has a proven track record that goes far beyond the basic contactless payment application to being at the heart of all marketing, operations, security and, in a nutshell, any communications strategy.
The leap with the NTAG21x family of tags is less technology driven and much more user and application driven. Previous generations proved to the world what NFC could do; this generation responds to the world’s commitment, to give those users what they need in their business, a move away from ‘one size fits all’ to the design of NTAG21x family members for specific roles in the rapid diversity of application.
A major new feature is the 32 bit password security; being able to ensure that access to the tag’s information or application requires a human input; protecting systems from the risk of stolen card or phone usage.
A must for marketers is the UID (unique identifier) ASCII mirror capability that allows for quickly tracing site visits back to the originating tag by providing a link to the URL. This of course allows for the performance evaluation of poster or information sites or content in driving traffic, as well as the opportunity to quickly roll out new tag based campaigns.
The 24-bit NFC counter, incorporated in the NTAG 213, 215 and 216 members, gives a record of how many times a tag has been tapped; again providing a performance tool for evaluating promotional assets or providing simplified monitoring records.
All members of the NTAG21x family are equipped with the Fast Read command; this dramatically improves the tag registration speed capability of inline processes such as print and label manufacturing, avoiding bottleneck risks in fast processing.
Product authenticity problems can also be a thing of the past, with the Integrated Originality Signature providing the detection of unauthorised NTAG copies; a simple but very powerful solution that is likely to become an area of significant future development given that counterfeiting seems to have become an unwelcome part of everyday business competition.
32 bit Password
UID Ascii Mirror
24 bit Counter
Fast Read Command
NFC Forum Type 2
7 Byte Unique ID
To date the main development targets in NFC technology have been scan distance, reliability, memory and, of course, price. While those will continue to be areas for further improvements there can be little doubt that NFC’s future rests in how it can adapt itself to the functional needs of both customers and users, ensuring that an NFC enabled experience is a better experience.
These first steps, with the NTAG21x family, to incorporate counters and usage monitoring tools are just the beginning of the maturity of NFC to provide the performance data that will make it truly accountable, perfectly timed to appeal to the new users who will be attracted by these powerful features.
4. Introducing the new generation Mifare UL EV1 circuit
Continuing the trend towards developing circuits for specific applications, Mifare have introduced the EV1 to join the family of ultra-light chips.
The UL EV1 is designed specifically for the limited use applications of transport, event ticketing and loyalty recording, and is able to authenticate the encoding, preventing the use of cloned counterfeit tickets. This is achieved through a unique 7 bytes serial number, with data access protected with a 32-bit password.
The three independent 24 bit one-way counters enable transport operators to implement flexible ticket tariff schemes - for buses, trams and metros, for example - by enhancing reloading, trip counting, expiry date management and limiting stored values.
The fast read command allows increased customer flow; this improves operational efficiency with faster boarding processes and reduces customer queuing times and frustration at events, such as concerts and exhibitions. The reduction, or even elimination, of cash handling gives additional overall application improvement, backed up by the proven reliability of the Mifare products.
The enhanced performance of the limited use circuit doesn’t compromise the access to statistical data for system optimisation, so more efficient fleet management and security outcomes remain as expected from the Mifare range.
On the technical front, the UL EV1 is fully compatible with other Mifare based systems, allowing easy integration into existing ticket production processes. Additionally, public transport operators using smart paper tickets can run a fully integrated contactless system employing a single reader infrastructure for both tickets and cards - eliminating the need for separate systems to read mag-stripe and barcode-based tickets.
5. Introducing the Mifare DesFire EV1
The Mifare DesFire EV1 is a fast, secure, reliable and flexible Contactless smartcard. It offers a robust, multi-application contactless solution for high-volume and security-sensitive NFC applications such as public transport ticketing, physical access control and closed-loop Contactless payment systems.
By offering a perfect balance of speed, performance and versatility, the Mifare DesFire EV1 allows for innovative uses and easy integration with other contactless systems. The smartcard provides a high level of security using a 3DES or AES cryptographic system for encrypting transmission data.
The Mifare DesFire EV1 smartcard can hold up to 28 different applications, with 32 files for each application. This impressive capacity – combined with the ability of file sizes to be defined at creation – makes this a truly versatile product. It can be put to multiple, parallel uses, offering end users an ‘all in one’ smartcard. To add to its versatility, you can choose from three different variants of the Mifare DesFire EV1: 2K, 4K and 8K - denoting the total amount of non-volatile memory available on the chip.
The Mifare DesFire EV1 is a Common Criteria (EAL4+) certified product, which follows open global standards for NFC communication and cryptography, making it strongly standards-compliant. It provides an automatic anti-tear mechanism, along with impressive data transfer rates of up to 848 kbit/s.
6. The lowdown on the FeliCa RC-S966
Another chip which has really made its mark in recent times, especially with the explosion in smart posters, is the Sony FeliCa RC-S966, which offers a streamlined security function, as well as an optimised file system.
This tiny contactless IC chip is an 'NFC Forum Type 3 Tag' which combines perfectly with NFC devices not only in consumer touchpoints, such as smart posters and business cards, but also in handover connections.
In order to address the problem of unauthorised access, the FeliCa RC-S966 uses a Multiplier Accumulator Chip (MAC) which provides both write access control for its functionality, as well as read access control. This enables application development which is secure thanks to the MAC function, which gives a mutual and streamlined authentication between the reader and the product.
The Type 3 Tag which is supported by the chip means it is able to communicate with standardised NFC readers and smartphones. Backed up by a user memory of 224 bytes, it offers enough space for most usages and applications which include NFC tags and provides multiple access attributes on its simplified file system.
This simple file system supports the access attributes listed below:
Read Only Access
Read After Authentication
Write After Authentication
Write With MAC
Fast transaction speed
In terms of what operations the FeliCa RC-S966 supports, it allows for a 212/424 kbps data transfer rate, along with simultaneous 16 byte data writes and simultaneous 64 byte data reads. It also benefits from a data integrity check function and anti-tearing transaction function. This means a CRC data check code is provided for each data block in the event that a data error occurs.
The FeliCa RC-S966 is one of our chips of choice when developing NFC applications, and its functionality and reliability make it an essential ingredient in the creation of next generation NFC products.
7. The 3 ICODE Families
ICODE SLIX Family
Two chips which are fundamental to the functionality of many products in the NFC range are ICODE SLIX and ICODE SLIX 2. These NFC Forum Type 5 Tags operate under ISO/IEC 15693.
These chips possess a data retention spec of 50 years, which in practice means that they can hold data for up to 50 years.
The two chips make up an important strand of the ICODE SLIX family, with the ICODE SLIX being the newest addition to this product group of chips for applications which are ISO15693/ ISO18000-3 compliant. It is an advantage that the ICODE SLIX 2 is entirely backwards compatible with ICODE SLIX products which preceded it. The new chips offers a 2528 Bit user memory, along with a persistent quiet mode, NXP originality ECC signature, as well as a counter. While the ICODE SLIX offers 896 Bit user memory.
The feature set of these chips means they are suitable for a wide range of applications designed by NFC Direct, giving us benchmark RF performance. While the chips are capable of providing 2528 Bit memory, their memory ranges upwards from 896 Bit, giving us flexibility when it comes to the requirements of different applications. AFI and EAS password application is supported, and long term applications benefit from the 50 year guarantee on data retention which the chips offer. We also value the high quality scan strength the ICODE SLIX and ICODE SLIX 2 provide.
We do not use them for NFC marketing or consumer facing applications, as the chips are not supported by most NFC enabled smartphones, but they are suitable for a wide range of other uses. These chips are typically used for specialised applications which are closed off within industries; from library management to applications in the pharmaceuticals industry, factory automation and even ski ticketing. Their diminutive nature also benefits the asset tagging industry where the absolute smallest size is required.
ICODE DNA Family
As is often the case with NFC Forum Type 5 Tags such as ICODE DNA, they work more effectively 'behind the scenes', in a wide range of industrial uses, rather than in the consumer facing environments our NFC marketing tags are designed for.
Operating under ISO/IEC 15693 and 2016 Bit of user memory, ICODE DNA offers both tag and mutual tag AES cryptographic authentication, which performs the function of enhancing the security of vicinity applications. This can bring benefits to businesses in many sectors - in manufacturing, for example, brand authentication can be provided by using ICODE DNA NFC tagging as an identifier. This can help safeguard against the sale of counterfeit goods and give buyers down the supply chain peace of mind. The same benefits of the ICODE DNA can be applied to the tracking and authentication of important documents, giving it relevance across a wide range of sectors.
The ICODE DNA integrates well into other systems using NFC technology as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), making it a valuable method of performing tracking and tracing of items across the supply chain.
ICODE ILT Family
High speed tagging at item level can be facilitated by the ICODE ILT and ICODE ILT-M. ISO 18000-3M3/EPC Class-1 HF compliant, they are able to offer high anti-collision speed and provide an excellent performance level for their price. A number of next generation solutions are enabled by the ICODE ILT and ICODE ILT-M, which are a gaming favourite, used by casinos in their game cards and chips as a security measure.
As with the other chips in the ICODE family, ICODE ILT chips are very useful to the manufacturing sector, where their capabilities really shine through. Even when used on fast conveyor belts, and among tag populations which are highly dense, they are still able to perform their role.
In healthcare, uses for the ICODE ILT seem infinite, with the technology already being applied to innovations such as smart cabinets and surgery sponge detection, and many other future development paths possible. Supply chains in the pharmaceuticals industry are also being managed more effectively thanks to ICODE ILT NFC tags, and they are even benefitting laundry firms with their automation capabilities.
ICODE ILT NFC tags are harmonised for the 13.56 MHz ISM band, making them usable all over the globe.
8. A brief history of chips
The technical bit that determines what we can do is known as the ‘tag’(sometimes called stickers ); it has an integrated circuit containing a tiny memory device, like a computer disk or USB stick, attached to a small radio antenna that enables the wireless communication.
What is really clever is that the tag does not have to have a power source, such as a battery nor does it have to be plugged in. It simply takes the power it needs from the close proximity of the phone, no wires, no contact, just near field communication.
Tags come in a variety of specifications, Ultralight, Ultralight C, Standard 1K and NTAG203, each of which has a different information capacity in the memory and accuracy over specific distances.
Cost effective, short URL, smart poster and general NFC use.
Good capacity, general NFC use.
Used for high capacity storage and vCards only.
Latest nfc chip, high performance. Great value.
NFC Forum T2
1 - Memory Size : this is the total amount of memory within the chip and may be one time programmable (OTP) or fully reprogrammable. 2 - User Memory : This will tell you how much data you can store and will probably determine which tag you select. 3 - URL Length : as it suggests this is maximum length of URL you can store on this chip, excluding the http:// or http://www precursors. 4 - Text Length : identifies in characters how much plain text the chip will store. 5 - Mobile Compatability : This will identify which phones/operating systems are compatible with the chip. 6 – Best Use : The type of application best suited to this tag. 7 - NFC Forum Type 2 : Compatible with the growing NFC Forum Type 2 standards. 8 - Serial Number : Some apps need specific information such as location, product or identity which can be encoded via a serial number. 9 - Cryptography : Encryption can help to prevent the danger of device cloning. 10 - ScanStrength : An indicator that shows the ratio of distance to accuracy of reading, a key measure in designing NFC systems. Each type of NFC Tag has a varying average scanning distance. This means that one tag will have a shorter or longer scanning distance than another. The table below shows a scanning distance rating of each of the main NFC tag types.
Average Scan Accuracy
Maximum Scan Accuracy
Minimum Scan Accuracy
“We are Contactless technology specialists supplying the World with NFC: the power of Contactless”
NFC Direct LTD Unit 48, Tennyson Avenue, Grays, Essex, RM17 5RQ