Brief NFC Guide: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Is Popular

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a technology that provides wireless data transmission at a short distance with a typical connection radius of no more than 10 cm. The technology traces its roots to radio-frequency identification (RFID), which was patented in 1983. NFC was approved as an ISO/IEC standard on December 8, 2003.

In 2004, Sony, Nokia, and Philips established the NFC Forum, which currently hosts over 130 member organizations. The NFC Forum’s primary goals are to provide the successful development of the technology and the expansion of its market reach. Thanks to this nonprofit association’s efforts, out of 3.4 billion active smartphones worldwide, 2 billion devices were NFC-enabled in 2020.

Let’s take a closer look at the NFC technology to figure out how it works and understand why it has been experiencing such an increase in the number of users.

How Does NFC Technology Work?

The principle of the NFC sensor functionality is rather straightforward. An antenna installed in the device generates a weak electromagnetic field. If another antenna is in range, together, they form an air-core transformer. Inductive currents are used to exchange information at speeds up to 424 kbit/s. Simply put, NFC technology allows two devices to instantly exchange small amounts of data at a distance of several centimeters.

NFC can be either passive or active. The first type can only send data and doesn’t require any power supply to function. Such compact array or loop antennas are intended solely to interact with an active transmitter and may be as thin as a fraction of a millimeter. That’s why they remain almost invisible to others. One example of such technology is ID cards.

The latter type can not only send but also receive data. Such NFC sensors are embedded in most modern smartphones, including Android and Apple devices.

NFC transmitter powers vary depending on the device, allowing the connection of gadgets up to 10 centimeters away from each other. However, smartphones and other mobile devices usually have low-power transmitters, resulting in a maximum connectivity range of no more than 4 cm.

Why Is NFC Technology Widespread?

NFC technology is becoming as common as messenger apps – nearly every device has it. Even in comparison with the speed of Bluetooth 2.1 (2.1 Mbit/s), NFC’s data transmission rate is slow. So why not replace NFC technology with the latest Bluetooth version for reduced power consumption and passive mode support?

The answer lies in NFC’s impressive connectivity. It establishes a connection in less than a second, while it takes about 1-2 seconds to connect two devices via Bluetooth with preliminary preparation and up to ten seconds without it.

Thus, the main advantages of NFC technology are:

  • The process of establishing communication between the devices takes a split second.
  • The power consumption is extremely low.
  • The NFC sensor is very small in size.

Thanks to these features, NFC sensors can be integrated even into small-sized gadgets. They allow device owners to pay for purchases, open doors with electromagnetic locks, and pay for public transport using their smartphones. Besides, NFC technology speeds up the connection of wireless headphones and smartwatches.

Thus, the NFC function in a smartphone is a convenient and multifunctional feature. If you master this simple technology and install the right apps, your NFC-enabled smartphone will simplify many of your daily processes.