Near Field Communication Technology
- 05 Apr 2022
- 10 min read
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 .