Technology Behind Near Field Communication

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By Tanya Wozniaki

The idea of sending information wirelessly is nothing new. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have done it for years and even the idea of contactless payment systems have come and gone before near field communication really took off. Yet many individuals want to know more. If you’re curious about how exactly near field communication technology works, read on to learn about the technology behind it in more detail.

The NFC movement started with radio frequency identification, or RFID. RFID uses radio waves to send out signals and communicate wirelessly with another device. When communicating using electromagnetic waves across a far distance, this is known as far field communication.

When communicating up close, usually within one wavelength’s distance from the antennae sending out the signal, this is known as near field communication. This type of communication is ideal for sending information between two devices, even if one device has no power source of its own. The first device, a smartphone for example, creates an electromagnetic field around it and the receiving device, such as a NFC tag embedded in a smart poster, is charged by that field. The NFC tag needs no other power source and thus can remain quite small in size.

Once the signal from the smartphone reaches and starts powering the NFC tag, the smartphone begins sending out signals to determine what kind of information the tag contains. When the smartphone learns what information the tag holds, it requests this information and a connection is established.

The smartphone and NFC tag communicate by altering the fields they are generating. Changing the signals sent out from low to high or high to low registers as 1s and 0s, or binary code. The devices interpret the binary code as instructions and reply in kind.

After the transaction is complete or the smartphone is moved away from the NFC tag, the connection is broken and the NFC tag loses its power until the next person comes along and waves her smartphone over it.

The connection between the devices is set up so quickly it seems almost instantaneous, an obvious advantage of NFC technology. Customers can pay for purchases quickly or gather information from a movie poster without standing around waiting for a connection. Smartphones can also connect with other smartphones to exchange telephone numbers or establish a connection to play games. This instantaneous connection is what makes NFC technology so powerful.