Wireless Communication is a much discussed science in the recent times. A lot of research activities have been carried out in this field due to high demand of low-power & interference free communication technologies. Secondly, the humongous developments in VLSI technologies have enabled low-power & low-area implementation of unique DSP algorithms. Many low-end communication technologies have been introduced so far to cater the requirement of short range & secure communication between endpoints for communication, data exchange and automated commands execution .
Near-field Communication (NFC) is basically a Bluetooth-like short-range wireless communication technology for smartphones and other mobile devices to communicate with each other by touching or bringing them into close proximity of a few centimetres. NFC communicates by a modulated electric or magnetic field but not by radio waves so very less energy is required for communication or data exchange. Similarly, as the distance between the communicating devices is very less so, signal interruption, interference or to eavesdrop on is quite difficult. Unlike earlier communication systems, like contactless smart cards which allowed one-way communication, NFC allows two-way communication between communicating devices as it builds upon Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems.
NFC enabled devices can also communicate with an unpowered chip called “NFC Tag” which can be programmed to automate certain tasks. Android applications are already available on the app store for automated command execution. Customized apps can also be developed using Android SDK in order to write to or burn code to these tags to perform task according to the requirement .
Rest of the document is formulated will define near field communication formally and will explain its standards, protocols and other important aspects in details. This is a comprehensive report giving complete information about the technology of near field communication. NFC applications and research issues are also desciribed in this report which will help in understanding the problems of this evolving research problem.
NEAR FIELD COMMUNICATION:
NFC is an emerging wireless communication technology which comprises of a set of standards for mobile devices to communicate over close proximity (Field).
NFC operates in two modes; Active Mode, Passive Mode. In active mode, both devices are generating their own RF fields as in case of two mobile devices exchanging data. In passive mode, one of the devices generates the RF field and the other device uses the field to power itself and communicate. The active device is called the “reader” and the passive device is the “tag”.
NFC-enabled devices communicate with unpowered chips called NFC Tags through radio waves. These tags are either pre-coded for automated command execution or could be custom- encoded for performing required tasks. Tags could be encoded by installing android applications available on play store onto the smartphone, configuring the tasks on the app, bringing the smartphone near tags & it’ll encode the tag. Basically, NFC technology is the extension to RFID, through which a mobile device sends radio waves to a passive electronic tag for communication. If we go into the history of NFC technology, it doesn’t date back long. Sony & Phillips established a new technology specification outline. Then Sony, Nokia, & Phillips established the Near Field Communication (NFC) Forum which defined the initial specifications for NFC tags. Nokia 6131 was the first Symbian whereas Samsung Nexus S was the first Android NFC phone. Recently, Apple also announced NFC Chip in its latest iPhone & smartwatch. The Apple Pay technology currently being used for contactless payments uses NFC Technology though, Apple is taking additional measures for payments security. Although, Google also announced Google Wallet, an NFC based payment application, but it couldn’t get much acceptance among the users but now with the Apple Pay, also based on NFC, mobile payments are getting a boost once again. According to Apple CEO Tim cook, 1 million credit cards got registered on Apple Pay within first three days of its launch (Ljunggren).
NFC TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS
There are certain standards which are supposed to meet in order to ensure all forms of NFC technology could communicate with other NFC-enabled mobile devices. These standards cover communications protocols and data exchange formats.
Two major specifications exist for NFC technology: ISO/IEC 14443 and ISO/IEC 18000-3. The first defines the ID cards used to store information, such as that found in NFC tags. The latter specifies the RFID communication used by NFC devices.
ISO/IEC 18000-3 is an international standard for all devices communicating wirelessly at the 13.56MHz frequency using Type A or a Type B card, as NFC does. The interacting mobile devices must be in proximity of no more than 4cm before they can communicate. The standards devise the way how an NFC-enabled device and the NFC tag it is reading should communicate with one another. The mobile NFC-enabled device is known as the interrogating device while the NFC tag is simply referred to as the tag.
NFC tags save data of approximately 96 to 4,096 bytes and are both read-only & rewriteable. The tags securely store personal data like debit/credit card details, loyalty program data, PINs and networking contacts other information .
They can be custom-encoded by their manufacturers or use the specifications provided by the NFC Forum, an industry association with more than 160 members founded in 2004 by Nokia, Philips Semiconductors, which became NXP Semiconductors since 2006, and Sony charged with promoting the technology and setting key standards.
The GSMA, other than NFC Forum, also defined a platform for the deployment of "GSMA NFC Standards" for mobile phones but the standards are not universally accepted.
For example, On Android 4.4, Google introduced a new platform support for secure NFC-based transactions through Host Card Emulation (HCE) for which, NFC protocol has been deployed without considering GSMA Standards.
NFC STANDARDIZATION BODIES
NFC Standardization bodies are the forums that define the communication protocols and data exchange formats which are based on existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) standards. These standardization bodies include ISO/ IEC, GSMA, StoLPaN, NFC Forum, ETSI/ SCP, GlobalPlatform, & EMVCo.
NFC is has used two standards. First is ECMA-340 standard and other is ISO/IEC 18092. These standards are used to define the modulation techniques, coding process, transfer speeds of networks. They are also used in defining the transport protocols.
The GSM Association (GSMA) is the global trade association. It represents 1000 companies including mobile phone operators & other product and service companies across 219 countries. Many of its members have led NFC trials all over the globe and are now preparing services for commercial launch.
StoLPaN (Store Logistics and Payment with NFC) is a pan-European consortium that will explore the undiscovered potential for the unique local wireless interface, NFC and mobile communication.
The NFC Forum is a non-profit industry association formed by Sony and Nokia to advance the use of NFC short-range wireless communication in different electronic devices. The NFC Forum promotes implementation and standardization of NFC technology so that compatibility issues don’t arise among different NFC Enabled devices. With HCE, any app on an Android 4.4 device can emulate an NFC smart card, letting users tap to initiate transactions with an app of their choice.
NFC Technology has widely been used around the world in different fields. 600 trials of NFC have been conducted as of 2011. Some of the largest organizations of the world like Orange Telecom introduced NFC technology for banks, retailers, transport, and service providers in multiple European countries, Vodafone launched an NFC-based mobile payment service in Spain. In Sri Lanka, the first workforce smartcard also uses NFC technology. Google Wallet, a contactless payment app introduced by Google, also works on NFC technology. Apple recently launched NFC chip in its latest iPhones & Smartwatches for contactless payments. Airtel Africa & Oberthur Technologies rolled out NFC technology in African countries. Recently, NFC ticketing systems for public transport have been introduced in countries like Germany, Turkey, Iran, Austria, and Finland. Equity bank partnered with Google in Kenya to introduce NFC payment systems for public transport in the Capital city Nairobi. Citi Bank India has launched NFC for mobile banking, PayMate have partnered Nokia in India to deploy NFC payment solution through Nokia NFC enabled handsets. Bank of America, US Bank, FIS have trailed NFC devices whereas, AT&T, Verizon, T Mobile, Pay Pal have launched NFC based mobile payment systems. China Unicom, Bank of Communications, China UnionPay in China has introduced NFC based mobile banking. France National Home Care services association rolled out NFC based healthcare services also; Orange telecom has launched NFC based event ticketing service in Spain.
NFC Tags are just like a chip or stickers which could be encoded by NFC applications to automate tasks & to allow number of tasks to be executed. Smartphones equipped with NFC can be paired with these tags.
These tags can be bought from number of online vendors e.g. Amazon, eBay, Tags for droid, Tag Age. Single or package of multiple tags can be bought online price ranging from $10 to $30 . Preformatted tags are preferred to be bought to avoid any issues formatting these tags.
NFC Tags are not meant for heavy data exchange. The actual amount of data that could be stored on a tag varies depending on the type of NFC Tag used. Memory sizes, communication speed and other details of NFC Tags are given in the following table .
APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT FOR TAG ENCODING
As explained earlier, NFC Tags can be encoded using Android applications, available on the app store in a large number but users can also develop their own application for configuring customized tasks. When NDEF data, that Android cannot fully understand, is used, you have to manually encode the tags in raw bytes using your own protocol stack. In these cases, Android provides support to detect certain tag technologies and to open communication with the tag using your own protocol stack. For that purpose, minimum API level 10 is recommended for android as NFC is fairly new technology and it doesn’t work with the older versions. In order for an application to be able to use NFC hardware and software of a device, it must have the NFC permission. If your application can’t do its work on non NFC-enabled devices, you can make sure that only compatible devices will see your app in the store.
On the other hand, iOS doesn’t provide the support to develop NFC applications that allow writing to or encoding the tags rather, latest iOS version 8 provides the Apple Pay, an application based on NFC technology for the secure contactless payments.
NFC-ENABLED MOBILE DEVICES
There is a long list of NFC-enabled mobile devices with iPhone 6 being the recent most addition. No earlier device from Apple offered the NFC technology. Android phones have been equipped with NFC for quite some years now. In 2011, 40 NFC-enabled mobile phones were launched by different vendors. Google Wallet is officially supported on most NFC equipped mobile devices running Android 4.4 Kit Kat which introduced Host Card Emulation for NFC payments. BlackBerry devices also support NFC using BlackBerry Tag on a number of devices running BlackBerry OS 7.0 and greater. MasterCard has enabled NFC for PayPass users to make payments using their Android and BlackBerry smartphones. Microsoft’s windows phone 8 also support NFC technology. Microsoft provides the "Wallet hub" in Windows Phone 8 for NFC payment, and can integrate multiple NFC payment services within a single application. Tablet Computers from vendors like Google, ASUS, Sony, Acer, and Lenovo running Windows 8 or Android OS also support NFC technology.
NFC is a hot topic now-a-days especially after the integration of NFC chip in latest iPhones, but it has enormous utility in a lot of other fields as well e.g. Contactless payment systems, Data exchange, social networking, Advertisement, product authentication, electronics pairing among others.
Contactless Payment Systems:
Contactless payment is an efficient and most prominent usage of NFC Technology. Available in the android smartphones, windows phone and blackberry, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and newly launched Apple Watch, NFC can be used in our smartphones, especially for mobile payments. Retailers like Target, Macys, Walgreens, and McDonalds etc. have NFC-based contactless pay terminals in place, making the transition to mobile payments easy. Currently, secure NFC-based transactions are used for payments, loyalty programs, card access, transit passes etc.
Google Wallet is an application developed by Google, using which uses NFC technology. All you have to do is wave your smartphone or tap it on the machine to make your payments.
Isis comes with its own cash card which is preloaded with $10 to help you start spending. It works with an NFC-enabled Android smartphone and also allows you to manage your coupons, loyalty cards and redeem offers from merchants.
Apple Pay is a mobile payment and digital wallet service by Apple Inc. It lets users make payments using Apple devices at retail and online checkout.
NFC can be used for social networking as it facilitates sharing data like videos, images, contacts, and files etc. Social networking or data exchange for social purposes require two NFC-enabled mobile devices brought in proximity of no more than a few centimeters.
In multiplayer games like Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, NFC technology has been used. With NFC player buys figurines which possess personal data, and no two figures are exactly alike as they can be customized. Wii U was the first system to use NFC technology in games that are played along with such toys that interact with it through a "Portal”, which reads their tag through NFC.
One of the most innovative uses of NFC Technology in daily life is its use for advertisement of products & services. NFC Enabled posters of technological products, food items, grocery store lists, movies etc. show specifications, reviews, price, timings, availability, offered deals, and redirect customers to company’s website or social media pages as the users bringing their NFC-enabled mobile devices close to them.
Actually, these smart posters are equipped with the NFC tags, which are programmed to show the required details to customers.
NFC Technology has wide applications in Healthcare especially for remote health monitoring systems for elderly people. Users can identify themselves by simple touch with an NFC-enabled device. Different health information can be wirelessly collected and associated with the identified user. Furthermore, this system enables caregivers or physicians to monitor these health readings and patient actions at home.
Health providers have been using NFC technology to accept data from patient’s mobile device. Patients also use this technology to transfer their health data in a secure way. All the health details of a patient stored on a mobile device can be brought in proximity to another NFC Enabled device to exchange the data. With the prior knowledge of important health details of a patient, provider will be able to analyze the medical condition better.
NFC Technology is very useful for the patients as well. Patients can get benefits of NFC as; they could have a tag placed on their medication bottle. Then tap their NFC-enable phone on it to send an alert to their physician that they took the medication. In addition, if they forget to take it on a specific time, tag will send an alert on their phone reminding them to take it.
NFC IN THIRD WORLD
A winner of last year’s NFC Forum’s 5,000 Euro prize was a program that helps track patients in low resource areas, and is currently being used in a pneumonia study of young children in Pakistan.
Each child is given a bracelet with an RFID tag on it. The tag is scanned every time the child visits a participating health care organization. The clinical and laboratory data associated with that patient is collected and posted to a secure server in real-time.
Although NFC is an emerging technology and it has enormous applications in different fields but there are some troubling limitations as well. The main limitation of NFC is its short range. As, it could have been used for a lot more purposes if it allowed a bit long range communication like Bluetooth. There is a great advantage for NFC technology being short range as it’s difficult to hack or run interference in the radio signals exchanging data but on the other hand, a very limited amount of data could be transferred through NFC technology using tags and devices. The amount of data that could be shared depends upon the type of NFC tag but the overall speed and amount of data is quite low. NFC can’t be used everywhere because if companies do not agree to integrate NFC into their business, consumers will not be able to use the technology. Similarly, NFC readers and scanners are needed for the incorporation of NFC technology in business. Another limitation is the cost attributed to the development and implementation of NFC in the form of NFC enabled devices, readers and payment terminals etc.
Near Field Communication is a set of standards for short range wireless communication through which mobile devices equipped with NFC technology communicate with each other over proximity of a few centimetres. NFC is an evolution of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. It has been around for quite some time now but still is an unknown technology for users. It has enormous applications in different fields of life but also has certain limitations like it can operate only at a close proximity, includes significant costs related to development & implementation, data rate is slow, and also the amount of data which can be exchanged is very low infact in Mbs. There are certain managing bodies that are responsible for liaising with companies and directing the developments of NFC on a global scale. NFC devices also communicate with unpowered chips called “Tags” which can be encoded for automated command execution through android applications. There are a lot of NFC-enabled mobile devices like smartphones, feature phones, and tablet computers most of them run android OS, Windows OS, or BlackBerry OS. Apple has recently announced NFC support in its latest products i.e. iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Smart Watch. NFC technology has been getting enormous appreciation around the globe and many countries and global organizations are now implementing the NFC in their products and services.
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