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Near Field Communication Technology

  • 05 Apr 2022
  • 10 min read

For Prelims: NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Technologies.

For Mains: IT and Computers.

Why in News?

Google Pay has recently launched a new feature in India, ‘Tap to pay for UPI’, in collaboration with Pine Labs. The feature makes use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

  • The functionality will allow users with NFC-enabled Android smartphones and UPI (Unified Payments Interface) accounts linked to Google Pay to carry out transactions just by tapping their phones on any Pine Labs Android point-of-sale (POS) terminal across the country.
  • The process is much faster compared to scanning a QR code or entering the UPI-linked mobile number which has been the conventional way till now.
  • In February 2022, Apple introduced Tap to Pay on the iPhone.

What is NFC and how does it work?

  • NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that allows NFC-enabled devices to communicate with each other and transfer information quickly and easily with a single touch - whether to pay bills, exchange business cards, download coupons, or share a document.
  • NFC transmits data through electromagnetic radio fields, to enable communication between two devices. Both devices must contain NFC chips, as transactions take place within a very short distance.
    • NFC-enabled devices must be either physically touching or within a few centimetres from each other for data transfer to occur.
  • In 2004, consumer electronics companies, Nokia, Philips and Sony together formed the NFC Forum, which outlined the architecture for NFC technology to create powerful new consumer-driven products.
  • Nokia released the first NFC-enabled phone in 2007.

What are the other applications of NFC technology?

  • It is used in contactless banking cards to perform money transactions or to generate contact-less tickets for public transport.
    • Contactless cards and readers use NFC in several applications from securing networks and buildings to monitoring inventory and sales, preventing auto theft, and running unmanned toll booths.
  • It is present in speakers, household appliances, and other electronic devices that are controlled through smartphones.
  • It also has an application in healthcare, to monitor patient stats through NFC-enabled wristbands. NFC is used in wireless charging too.

How safe is this technology?

  • NFC technology is designed for an operation between devices within a few centimetres from each other. This makes it difficult for attackers to record the communication between the devices compared to other wireless technologies which have a working distance of several metres.
  • The user of the NFC-enabled device determines by the touch gesture which entity the NFC communication should take place with, making it more difficult for the attacker to get connected.
  • The security level of the NFC communication is by default higher compared to other wireless communication protocols.
  • Since the receiving device reads data the instant one sends it, NFCs also reduce the chance of human error.

Where does it stand in comparison to other wireless technologies?

  • The IrDa (Infrared) technology is a short range (a few metres) connection based on the exchange of data over infrared light where the two communication devices must be positioned within a line of sight. Today, this technology is mainly used for remote control devices.
  • For larger data communication with computer devices this technology was replaced by Bluetooth or WiFi connections.
    • However, for these technologies’ receiver devices need their own power supply due to the larger working distance.
    • Therefore, the receiving device cannot be powered by the Radiofrequency (RF) field like in NFC.
    • Another consequence of the larger working distance is the need for the user to configure their device and to pair them together for communication. Connection cannot be initiated by a simple touch gesture like in NFC.


Bluetooth: Developed in the late 1990s, it is a technology designed to enable short-range wireless communication between electronic devices, such as between a laptop and a smartphone or between a computer and a television.

  • Bluetooth works by using radio frequencies, rather than the infrared spectrum used by traditional remote controls. As a result, Bluetooth eliminates the need not only for a wire connection but also for maintaining a clear line of sight to communicate between devices.
  • Bluetooth works at 2.4GHz frequency.

Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity): It is similar to Bluetooth in that it also uses radio waves for high-speed data transfer over short distances without the need for a wire connection.

  • Wi-Fi works by breaking a signal into pieces and transmitting those fragments over multiple radio frequencies. This technique enables the signal to be transmitted at a lower power per frequency and also allows multiple devices to use the same Wi-Fi transmitter.
  • Initially developed in the 1990s, Wi-Fi has undergone several standardization processes, approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), to allow for greater bandwidth in data transfer.
  • Wi-Fi based networks work at 2.4, 3.6 and 5 GHz .

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Q. With reference to ‘LiFi’, recently in the news, which of the following statements is/are correct? (2016)

  1. It uses light as the medium for high speed data transmission.
  2. It is a wireless technology and is several times faster than ‘WiFi’.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: (c)

  • Li-Fi stands for Light Fidelity and is a Visible Light Communications (VLC) system which runs wireless communications that travels at very high speeds. The term was coined by University of Edinburgh Professor Harald Haas during a TED Talk in 2011. Haas envisioned light bulbs that could act as wireless routers.
  • Wi-Fi technology uses radio waves for transmission, whereas Li-Fi utilizes light waves. Wi-Fi works well for general wireless coverage within the building/ campus/compound, and Li-Fi is ideal for high density wireless data coverage in a confined area or room and is free from interference issues unlike the Wi-Fi. Speed of data transmission for Li-Fi is approximately 1 Gbps and for Wi-Fi – IEEE 802.11n is approximately 150 Mbps. Hence, statements 1 and 2 are correct.
  • Therefore, option (c) is the correct answer.

Q. What is the difference between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices? (2011)

(a) Bluetooth uses 2.4 GHz radio frequency band whereas Wi-Fi can use 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency band

(b) Bluetooth is used for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) only, whereas Wi-Fi is used for Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN) only

(c) When information is transmitted between two devices using Bluetooth technology, the devices have to be in the line of sight of each other, but when Wi-Fi technology is used the devices need not be in the line of sight of each other

(d) The statements (a) and (b) given above are correct in this context

Ans: (a)

Q. Consider the following: (2010)

  1. Bluetooth device
  2. Cordless phone
  3. Microwave oven
  4. Wi-Fi device

Which of the above can operate between 2.4 and 2.5 GHz range of radio frequency band?

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 and 4 only
(c) 1, 2 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Ans: (d)

  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances. The working frequency band is 2.400 to 2.485 GHz. Hence, 1 is correct.
  • A cordless telephone works in the frequency band of 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Hence, 2 is correct.
  • Microwave oven uses frequencies of 2.45 GHz. Hence, 3 is correct.
  • Wi-Fi is technology for radio wireless local area networking of devices. Wi-Fi most commonly uses the 2.4 GHz band. Hence, 4 is correct.
  • Therefore, option (d) is the correct answer.

Source: TH

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