Near Field Communications, a technology originally developed by Philips and Sony, is starting to pick up speed thanks to last year’s creation of the NFC Forum. Its membership is growing, as is the technology that spawned it, but NFC is still in its infancy with only a smattering of projects to look at.
The NFC Forum was created last year by Nokia Corporation, Royal Philips Electronics, and Sony Corporation to promote the NFC technology or, as the release announcing the forum’s inception, said: “To enable the use of touch-based interactions in consumer electronics, mobile devices, PCs, smart objects and for payment purposes.. The new forum will promote implementation and standardization of NFC technology to ensure interoperability between devices and services. The vision of the NFC Forum is to enable users to access content and services in an intuitive way.”
So, what is NFC?
“Philips jointly developed NFC technology a couple of years ago with Sony,” said the forum’s chairman, Christophe Duverne, vice president of marketing and sales for one of NFC’s creators, Philips Semiconductors’ ID business in France. “NFC is licensed and ISO standardized. Anybody can license the technology.”
The NFC Forum web site probably explains NFC best with this analogy: “In a room full of people, you would walk across the room to have a private conversation with someone, rather than shouting across it so that everyone could hear. Near Field Communication (NFC) uses the same principle to link electronic devices. It enables the user to exchange all kinds of information, securely, simply by bringing two devices close together.”
The NFC Forum is non-profit and its aim, as expressed in its mission, is to advance the use of NFC short-range wireless interaction in consumer electronics, mobile devices and PCs. The NFC Forum also seeks to promote standardization of NFC technology, see to its advancement and educate the public about NFC benefits, all which are typical goals for any trade or industry association–all this with a tad more than 50 members.
The forum actually has four membership categories, starting with the top, called sponsors, which, at $50,000 is limited to just 15 members. There are currently 12: MasterCard, Panasonic, Microsoft, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Philips, Renesas, Samsung, Sony, Texas Instruments, and Visa.
Sponsors “are those committed and involved companies seeking the most influence over the future of the NFC Forum and its deliverables,” said Mr. Duverne. Only sponsors can sit on the board or name a voting representative to the forum’s technical and marketing committees or one of the four working groups. Forking over $50,000 doesn’t automatically gain a company a sponsor membership.
“At the sponsor level, you have to basically be in one of the areas of interest to us as a forum– and also be an industry leader,” said Mr. Duverne. “And then you have to have a clear vision of what you want to do with the technology; there’s a review process before you can come in at the sponsor level.”
The other three member categories include principal at $25,000, associate at $5,000 and nonprofit at $1,000. There are nine companies at the principal level: American Express, France Telecom, Gemplus, Innovision, Inside Contactless, Logitech, RF Micro-Devices, Skidata, and Vodafone.
There are currently more than 50 members in all four categories, which Mr. Duverne calls “a good number.” About half of that 50 are in the associate category. “We have very strong names at all levels. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved,” he added.
The increase in membership–the forum is less than a year old–is a result of “networking. More people are talking about the forum,” he said. Aiding the membership recruitment effort, he added is that “a number of handset manufacturers have confirmed commercial products using NFC being available now or very soon. Also, the technology is very attractive; very user friendly.”
He said “anyone can join the forum. We tried to target companies that could benefit from NFC. With sponsors, we wanted leaders in their fields. We wanted to achieve good sector representation among consumer electronics, carriers, handsets, computing. We wanted to achieve good geographical coverage. We have very significant members from the U.S., Europe and Asia,” he added.
“Basically people who are interested in the NFC Forum are people who want to develop NFC-based devices, applications and services. Software is required to develop applications such as a car park ticketing application for letting users access car parks with their NFC enabled wireless handsets,” he said.
Evolving from a combination of contactless identification (RFID) and interconnection technologies, the NFC technology itself bridges the connectivity gap by enabling the transfer of information – from phone numbers to electronic transactions – and allows people to interact with their environment without needing to navigate complicated menus or perform complex set-up procedures, he said.
While NFC is still a new neighbor, at least one transport operator in Hanau, Germany is offering its customers the ability to use Nokia phones to get access to the public transport in this city” like bus tickets. “They can top it up over the air,” said Mr. Duverne. “It’s the first one that’s public at this point, but many more are coming up soon.”
NFC technology “has been gaining a lot of traction in transactions, ticketing, etc.,” he said. “One of the most remarkable aspects of this technology has yet to be felt. In the next five years, you’re going to see NFC gaining more traction in another area, bootstrapping, i.e. using NFC to initiate other wireless technology, such as Bluetooth or Wifi,” he added. “Bluetooth can be a little cumbersome to set-up, and there’s a requirement to make the initiation of the wireless link easier. There has been a lot of discussion within the standardization groups for using NFC as a bootstrapping technology, using it as the trigger for other wireless technologies.”
Take the example of a wireless handset and a Bluetooth headset. Assume both would be NFC enabled. “The NFC technology enables the pairing of the devices in a very intuitive way by simply bringing the two devices next to one another. Once the NFC link is established you take the two devices apart and the communication continues over Bluetooth. NFC simplifies the initiation of wireless links.”
He said the U.S. is ripe for NFC. “You have this huge contactless infrastructure being deployed (with contactless roll-outs from American Express, MasterCard and Visa). That’s the system that NFC requires. The next step is to move that over to a cell phone.”
Once people have changed their habit from swiping a card to touching it on a reader. “it’s easy to migrate to a handset,” he added.
Explore more developments dealing with the implementation of Near Field Communications, a short-range wireless technology that promises to revolutionize contactless identification, payment, access, and more. Click to visit NFCNews.