How Near-Field Communication (NFC) Works: Benefits of NFC for IoT and the Real-world

NFC (Near-Field Communication) is a series of communication protocol that allows two electronic devices to communicate over a distance. Since its release, NFC has been used in more and more different applications, for security measure, convenience, and even transactions!

In this article, we will be exploring NFC, more specifically:

  • How NFC works?
  • Difference between NFC and RFID
  • Benefits of NFC: How NFC benefitted IoT
  • Where is NFC used in the Real-world?
  • Products to get you started with NFC

How does NFC work?

NFC is based on radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which allows compatible hardware to use radio waves to both controls and communicate with otherwise unpowered and passive electronic tags!

Source: Mouser

More specifically, NFC transmits via Electromagnetic Induction, which can induce electric currents within passive components as well. This means that passive devices can be powered by the electromagnetic field produced by an active NFC component, and don’t need their own power supply.

Data is transmitted at a frequency of 13.56 megahertz over NFC. You have the option of sending data at 106, 212, or 424 kilobits per second. That’s quick enough for a variety of data transfers, from contact information to sharing photos and music.

NFC Three Modes of Data Exchange

The NFC standard currently has three distinct modes of operation.

  • Reader/Writer mode – One-way data transmission where the active device, which may be your smartphone, establishes a link with another device in order to read data from it. This mode is used by NFC advertisement tags.
  • Peer-to-Peer mode – This enables two NFC-enabled devices to share different types of data. Both devices transform from active to passive when sending and receiving data in this mode. Most common use in smartphones.
  • Card Emulation mode – The NFC device can be used to make purchases or tap into public transportation networks as a smart or contactless credit card, i.e. Google Pay and Apple Pay

Differences between NFC and RFID

Although NFC is rooted in RFID technology, they are similar yet different in their own unique ways. NFC is a subset within the family of RFID technology. RFID was invented in the 1980s while NFC was invented in the 2000s. RFID, like other wireless standards like Bluetooth and WiFi, transmits data through radio waves. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a generic term for all forms of contactless communication. NFC and RFID are mostly similar though. They even operate on the same frequency.

Source: Asset Infinity

RFID was first created as an improvement to printed barcodes, where simple ID’s are stored and transmitted. RFID can be read quickly in batches (in <1ms) and can read at a range of 1m to 100m. 

NFC was first created as an improvement to QR codes, where multiple data types can be stored. NFC can also be read in <1ms but with a way shorter range of 0-10cm.

The key difference between NFC and RFID is that an NFC system can be used as both a reader and a tag. As mentioned, NFC can also store and transmit multiple data types as opposed to only simple ID’s. Therefore, RFID is generally used for simpler applications like locating a product or track inventory. As opposed to NFC that are used for more applications that require small data transmissions like product registration, or even as a catalyst for contactless payments.

Benefits of NFC: How NFC benefitted IoT

NFC and IoT are two very different technology that has similar benefits. One is a solution for two devices to communicate, while the other is an autonomous system for data collection and transfer. Therefore, if they are implemented together, NFC will bring real benefits for IoT! However, what is the benefits?

Source: NFC Forum

The NFC technology is deceptively easy to understand and implement. Evolved from RFID tech, small amounts of data can be transferred when two NFC devices are within a few centimetres from each other. It doesn’t need a pairing code to connect, and it’s even more power-efficient than other wireless communication types because it uses chips that run on very low power (or passively, using even less). The easiness of NFC implementation already brings a big advantage when partnering it with IoT technology. What else?

NFC Solve many Challenges associated with IoT

With a system that aims to collect and transmit data autonomously, there will definitely be some challenges. NFC is able to help with many of these challenges! Here are some examples:

  • NFC makes connecting two separate IoT devices easy and intuitive thanks to its simple tap-and-go mechanism. Minimal configuration and no wires are required!
  • NFC provides data security on many levels. Hackers can take advantage of wide-open networks. NFC counters with built-in features that restrict eavesdropping opportunities, as well as easy-to-deploy options for additional security to fit each use case.
  • NFC is a strong indication that the consumer wants to take a specific action because NFC chips must be in near proximity to each other to initiate a transaction. This defends against hackers gaining unauthorized entry.
  • NFC tags will share data passively even if they don’t have power or an IoT link. Users who have an NFC-enabled computer can tap it to get information like URLs.

NFC Improves IoT Scalability

Scalability refers to the technology’s ability to adapt to changes in demand while maintaining its various functionalities.


The many functions of NFC in IoT mentioned above is only the tip of the iceberg! NFC excellence in security, ease-of-use and implementation will bring the current IoT’s technology to greater heights. NFC will simply IoT.

NFC has been existing close to twenty years and has constantly been used in different products. For example, almost all modern smartphone nowadays have built-in NFC chip for reading and writing NFC tags. A recent trending product that has NFC built-in is the Apple AirTag!

NFC Implementation in Apple AirTag

Source: Apple

The AirTag is Apple’s newest smart gadget, a tiny puck-shaped tracker that works with the Find My app in Apple devices to help you find lost or stolen objects. Users will attach the AirTag to their desired objects. The Find My app will indicate an arrow constantly pointing towards the selected AirTag with a distance counter at the bottom to help you find your lost objects.

The AirTag’s location is not located by NFC but instead uses ultra-wideband technology with its U1 chip. The U1 chip allows the AirTag to communicate with other U1-equipped devices for improves spatial awareness. 

NFC plays a big role in AirTag. NFC is used for allowing people who come across lost AirTag to scan it with their smartphone to bring up contact information. 

Where is NFC used in the Real-world?

NFC will bring great benefits to IoT and it is also currently used in different products such as the Apple AirTag. However, where is it currently put to use in the Real-world?

Security Access to Prohibited Areas and Machinery


Source: WinMagic

NFC is used in many prohibited areas for restricted security access. NFC enables personnel to use their badge, phone, wristband, or key fob to open physical doors to access these restricted areas.

As mentioned, NFC is almost impossible to hack into as it has no connection to the internet, and also has built-in encryption features. Therefore, it is ideal to use NFC technology for restricted access. Using NFC for restricted security access brings in several features:

  • Time and Attendance logging for secure areas
  • Temporary Access grant to service personnel
  • Remote Key distribution management
  • Reduced maintenance cost with reduced tampering of significant machinery by unauthorised personnel

Extended User-interface for Machinery

Source: NXP

NFC is used to control and monitor a product with your smartphone or tablet. However, a lesser-known use for NFC is to extend the user interface of machinery with minimal screen size. 

From there, complex device settings can easily be configured on the smartphone or tablet touchscreen. The screen can bring better accuracy than the minimal physical-mechanical controls on the machinery itself. This allows for new levels of interaction without adding additional buttons or displays to the machinery.

The extended user interface on the smartphone or tablet can also display maintenance progress and diagnostics to alert users of any faults that require repair. Machinery information, repair history and error logs can also be acquired easily.

Counterfeit Products Identification

NFC allows information to be read and received between two devices. This enabled company’s to create an entirely new way for their customers to identify any counterfeit products. 

Walimai, a Chinese start-up created anti-counterfeit labels that use NFC technology that buyers can scan with their smartphone to confirm the authenticity of the product they’re buying. 

Source: FoodNavigator-Asia

When a customer checks a product’s label with their phone, the product is authenticated and the customer is told whether the product is genuine or not. The data is scanned and stored on Walimai’s blockchain, ensuring a highly protected process since the data written into the blockchain remains permanent read-only knowledge throughout the future.

Walimai’s counterfeit label is currently used in baby foods, alcoholic beverage, and also pharmaceuticals. This is a great example of beneficial NFC implementation!

Personal Usage

Besides Industrial Usage, due to NFC’s easy implementation, NFC is popular among regular consumers. Most consumer smartphones have built-in NFC chips that can read and write NFC devices. Therefore, hobbyists have been making use of NFC for their own smart home or convenience with NFC tags.

Source: Android Authority

NFC Tags are passive NFC devices that are capable of storing data. Users can write data into these NFC tags via their smartphones, and so when they scan it with their smartphone, it will perform a preset command. For example, a popular implementation for NFC tags are to store WiFi information, so when guests come to visit you at your place, they can scan the NFC tag with their smartphone and get a connection to the WiFi! So much convenience!

The possibilities are endless when it comes to NFC tags. NFC tags can be preset with one of the many apps on the app store that have NFC writing capability.

Get Started on NFC with these Products

Now that you know the different benefits of NFC and how it is bringing us an edge for our convenience, here are some products to get you started!

ST25R3911B NFC Development Kit

This is an NFC development kit with the STM32F103R controller, OLED monitor, user buttons, and common user interfaces based on the ST25R3911B. The Discovery kit enables developers to combine the MCU and reader IC’s strengths, and allow them to use it in different applications! The in-built receiver is five times more sensitive than the typical NFC receiver, with 1.4W output that allows extended range. This is the ideal choice for learning and developing NFC applications with its multitude of features!

Key Features

  • Multi protocols support: ISO18092, ISO14443A, ISO14443B , ISO15693, FeliCa™
  • Differential antenna design, output power up to 1.4W, longer sensing distance
  • A low-power capacitive sensor embedded in the reader enables sensing, capacitive wake-up, and detection of nearby cards without enabling the reader’s magnetic field.
  • External TF card for storing data to be transferred via NFC is supported by the Micro SD slot.
  • A customized acrylic case that is both protective and dust-proof, as well as more attractive.

Grove – NFC

This is a Grove module with an NFC transceiver module. With this module, you can read and write a 13.56MHz tag or implement point-to-point data exchange between two NFCs. Grove NFC is designed to communicate via I2C or UART, with UART being the default mode. With a Grove connector built-in, you can easily connect this module to your single-board computers and microcontrollers for NFC capabilities. 

Key Features

  • Support host interface: I2C, UART(default). 
  • Serve for contactless communication at 13.56MHz.
  • Support ISO14443 Type A and Type B protocols.
  • Max operating distance for detecting NFC tags is 28mm depending on antenna size. 
  • Support P2P communication.

What is Grove?

Grove is a connector prototyping device that is modular and standardized. Grove uses a block-by-block approach to electronics assembly. It is simpler to bind, experiment, and construct than a jumper or solder-based device, and it simplifies the learning system without being too simplistic. A base unit (stem) and different modules (twigs) with standardized connectors make up the Grove system.

NFC Shield V2.0

This NFC shield connects to your Arduinos and Raspberry Pis to bring it NFC capabilities! The NFC Shield includes a PN532 transceiver module that supports wireless communication at 13.56MHz, allowing you to read and write 13.56MHz tags as well as implement point-to-point (P2P) data sharing between the shield and a smartphone. A separate PCB antenna area is also added for you to stretch the NFC interface outside of your main circuit enclosure.

Key Features

  • Up to 5cm Effective Range
  • SPI pin Saving Interface
  • Serve for contactless communication at 13.56MHz
  • Support P2P communication
  • Support ISO14443 Type A and Type B protocals

2.13-Inch Passive NFC-Powered E-Paper/E-Ink Display

This 2.13-Inch E-Paper screen supports NFC to transmit images. There is no need for a cable or a battery to power it. The movement of electrically charged molecules in an electric field helps to represent an image on the screen since there is an electrically charged surface. The images you send via NFC to this screen will last for weeks after you send them! This will make a great desk ornament to display your favourite pictures or a reminder!

Key Features

  • Latest Passive NFC Technology
  • A Battery is not required for power
  • Retain the images on the screen for weeks
  • Easy to set up using the provided APP
  • Light ABS case for protection

RFID Tag (125khz)

This RFID Tag comes with 3 different coloured key tags and operates at 125Khz with EM4100 standard. This key tag is ideal for lock/unlock functions and security access! It also comes with 2 blank cards with a serial number. It is also compatible with RDM630 module!

Summary

NFC is a great technology. It brings several benefits to IoT technology and the real world! It is currently widely used in industrial and personal scenarios, where it brings convenience and simple data transmission with the highest level of security. I hoped you learned more about NFC from this article!

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