NFC on Smart­phones: Is it Re­ally that Big a Deal?

Just tap de­vices to trans­fer files. Hell, tap to even make pay­ments! That’s NFC in short for you. But should it be a de­cid­ing fac­tor for buy­ing a smart­phone like the Galaxy S III or the iPhone 5? We ex­plore.

PCQuest - - TECH AND TRENDS - — Hiren Mehta

What is NFC?

NFC (Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tion) is a tech­nol­ogy that al­lows for low-range, 2-way trans­mis­sion of data over the air, con­sum­ing less power. The range is from 0 (which means you can sim­ply tap/touch the other de­vice) to a cou­ple of cen­time­ters at the max­i­mum. Al­though the in­tended op­er­a­tion(ex­cept for the range) works sim­i­lar to Blue­tooth from the user’s per­spec­tive, we tell you how it will make a dif­fer­ence to your use of the smart­phone.

Which de­vices have NFC?

The Galaxy S III ad­ver­tise­ment by Sam­sung makes men­tion of NFC (among oth­ers) as a killer fea­ture for it’s Galaxy S III smart­phone. The S III how­ever is not the only one to have NFC. Var­i­ous other An­droid smart­phones, in­clud­ing many from HTC, Sam­sung (esp. the Galaxy range), LG (Optimus range) and Sony (Xpe­ria range) have sup­port for NFC. This even ap­plies for some Nokia Se­ries 40 phones, Sym­bian Anna, Belle, Black­Berry, Win­dows Phones and even some J2ME-based mod­els. Ac­cord­ing to, Ap­ple did re­ceive a patent for a touch screen RFID tag reader back in 2009. How­ever, fur­ther plans to ex­pand on this RFID sup­port stalled.

Will NFC work across dif­fer­ent phones?

The NFC Forum was es­tab­lished in 2004. So, the stan­dard has been around for a long time. NFC has its roots in RFID, from where spec­i­fi­ca­tions for NFC tags and posters were de­vel­oped. The same NFC Forum later in 2009 re­leased stan­dards for P2P ex­change of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to trans­fer­ring URLs and contact in­for­ma­tion.

The cur­rent cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram of the NFC Forum does not yet in­clude test­ing all of the dif­fer­ent lev­els of pro­to­cols in­volved. There are plans to rem­edy this soon. How­ever, the NFC Forum of­fers its mem­bers a plat­form where they can anony­mously test the in­ter­op­er­abil­ity of their prod­ucts with other NFC prod­ucts through hand­son ex­per­i­ments.

What about per­for­mance?

The data rates are not as fast as Blue­tooth, but then NFC is not in­tended to carry a large amount of data in a batch. The plus point is, un­like Blue­tooth, you do not have to pair the de­vices. The high­est data trans­fer rate sup­ported by NFC is 424 Ob/s. That’s prob­a­bly as fast as the end­point data rate in most cor­po­rate in­ter­net con­nec­tions as ex­pe­ri­enced by a sin­gle end-user. A 5 megapixel JPEG pho­to­graph, at peak speed, will take about half a minute to be trans­ferred as op­posed to 10-12 sec­onds with Blue­tooth and a typ­i­cal song in the MP3 for­mat will take a cou­ple of min­utes to be trans­ferred, more than a minute slower than Blue­tooth. NFC is not lim­ited to a typ­i­cal file-shar­ing sce­nario though, it has var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­tions in e-pay­ment, so­cial as well as even for ini­ti­at­ing Blue­tooth and Wi-Fi con­fig­u­ra­tion by means of boot­strap­ping.

Should my next pur­chase fac­tor in NFC?

The tech­nol­ogy surely looks promis­ing. NFC, un­like Blue­tooth, can be used in pow­er­less (pas­sive) tags as well. NFC ef­fec­tively es­tab­lishes a point-to-point con­nec­tion in­stead of a per­sonal area net­work as with Blue­tooth. This, is to be con­sid­ered along with the fact that there is no sup­port for RFID-based cryp­tog­ra­phy in NFC. This is not re­ally much of a de­ter­rent in crowded places, since the very low range will make it dif­fi­cult to eaves­drop and re­late a cap­tured sig­nal to it’s trans­mit­ting de­vice.

So, if you see your­self vis­it­ing out­lets which are plan­ning to use NFC soon or feel more com­fort­able us­ing a very low range NFC in­stead of a less re­stric­tive Blue­tooth in a crowded en­vi­ron­ment, you might want to go for an NFC-en­abled de­vice. If you up­grade / switch your hand­set ev­ery cou­ple of years, you most prob­a­bly have no im­me­di­ate need in In­dia to con­sider NFC as a key fac­tor to con­sider in your next pur­chase. By the time NFC does be­come com­mon­place, there will surely be much bet­ter hand­sets out in the mar­ket. That said, NFC alone can­not be a tie-break­ing fac­tor to con­sider when you are eval­u­at­ing the S III ver­sus the iPhone 5.

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