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What is NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communication, a set of protocols that allows for communication between two electronic devices at short distances (typically under ten centimeters). Rooted in radio-frequency identification (RFID), NFC has different functions: emulating payment cards for contactless transactions; reading NFC tags that contain information; acting as IDs and keycards; providing peer-to-peer connection for social networking and data exchange.

Near-field communication requires an initiator and a target device; the first one creates a radio-frequency field that powers the passive target. NFC differs from Bluetooth by consuming less power and not requiring pairing. On the flipside, NFC's data transfer rate is considerably lower, as is the maximum distance between devices. Nevertheless, the technology's short communication range serves a purpose: as no pairing is required for data access and transfer, and a connection is established within less than 0.1 seconds, NFC would pose a significant threat if data could be intercepted from longer distances.

Near-field communication has been developed more as a facilitator than a competitor in regard to Bluetooth, as it may also be used to activate Bluetooth connections without manual setup. This principle is behind technologies such as the soon-to-be-defunct Android Beam, which operates via NFC to establish a Bluetooth connection and automatically disables Bluetooth on both devices upon transfer completion, saving a good deal of power.

The technology was first made available for phones in 2004 via NFC shell add-ons sold by Nokia and compatible with specific devices. In 2010, the Samsung Nexus S was the first Android phone with inbuilt NFC support. Apple followed suit four years later, with the iPhone 6. Since then, the number of devices grew exponentially; currently, NFC is a basic feature for mid-range and high-end smartphones, as well as for plenty of budget models.

The digital photography industry has also incorporated NFC. Manufacturers mainly employ the feature to facilitate Wi-Fi connection for media transfer and social media sharing.

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