You've likely heard of NFC even if you've never used it. Over the last few years it's grown in popularity and availability and underpins other services, most notably mobile payments. We've created a full guide to what it is, what it's used for and how long it's been around, so read on to become an NFC ninja.
NFC is short for Near Field Communication. It is a term used in mobile communications technology to refer to a set of standards for radio chat between devices, such as smartphones and other similar mobile kits like PDAs and tablets.
For NFC to work properly the devices must be brought within a few centimetres of each other, which is what sets NFC apart from other small scale radio standards such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. NFC devices are specifically designed to work at these small ranges, and there are a few different reasons for using NFC instead of the more common standards.
NFC has been in use with mobile phones for a few years. Nokia introduced their first phone with NFC in 2006, with the Nokia 6131. The idea for NFC had been in the works for a considerable length of time, with the original patent for a near field radio communication tracing back to the 'RFID' patent in 1983.
The Nokia, Sony and Philips companies became interested in the idea of a specialised technology for communicating between devices very close together. The three technology giants collaborated together to bring the new devices to market, starting in 2004. From then it was only a couple of years until Nokia had managed to fully develop and finish the 6131 phone.
NFC has a set number of uses which are fairly specific compared to the more regular types of wireless radio communications. NFCs are often used when security is considered important, as the need for the devices to be practically next to each other means that it is very hard for any kind of eavesdropping to occur on the transfer of data.
For example, the Google Wallet system and Android Pay allow people to store real currency online and use an NFC enabled device instead of a credit or debit card. Their device works with special terminals, effectively streamlining the payment process. NFC payments are now widely supported and many different companies offer it, through the likes of Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.
Any other exchange of information can take place using NFC, as long as both parties are equipped with NFC compatible devices. It makes setting up a connection with new devices easier than forming connections with Bluetooth, as only the devices in range of the NFC will appear. Consumers do not have to hunt for the right phone in a long list.
This makes NFC particularly useful for situations where people want to swap photos, contact information, or other information on their phones, especially in crowded areas. It also helps ensure that data transfers remain secure and cannot be compromised or intercepted by unwanted parties.
Most recent handsets have NFC built in, especially higher end ones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S, so there's a good chance your phone already supports it. However, you'll still need to make sure it's turned on. The option to do this will likely be found in the main settings screen, alongside Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles. Once it's turned on any service which requires NFC should automatically work, though be aware that for most mobile payment options you also need a fingerprint scanner.
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