IT Today Catalog Auerbach Publications ITKnowledgebase IT Today Archives Book Proposal Guidelines IT Today Catalog Auerbach Publications ITKnowledgebase IT Today Archives Book Proposal Guidelines
IT Today is brought to you by Auerbach Publications

IT Performance Improvement



Networking and Telecommunications

Software Engineering

Project Management


Share This Article

Free Subscription to IT Today

Powered by VerticalResponse

Designing Green Networks and Network Operations: Saving Run-the-Engine Costs, $79.95
Data Center Storage: Cost-Effective Strategies, Implementation, and Management, Hubbert Smith, ISBN 9781439834879, $79.95
Near Field Communications Handbook, edited by Syed A. Ahson and Mohammad Ilyas, ISBN 9781420088144, $99.95
The Internet of Things: From RFID to the Next-Generation Pervasive Networked Systems, edited 
Lu Yan, Yan Zhang, Laurence T. Yang, and  Huansheng Ning, ISBN 9781420052817, $109.95
Mobile Device Security: A Comprehensive Guide to Securing Your Information in a Moving World by Stephen Fried,  ISBN  9781439820162, $69.95
Making Your Data Center Energy Efficient, Gilbert Held
The Green and Virtual Data Center

NFC Applications with an All-in-One Device

Rosa Iglesias and Juan Pedro Uribe

NFC is a short-range wireless communication technology that has emerged from the convergence of contactless identification technologies such as RFID and networking technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. NFC does not try to replace these technologies, but to coexist with them, complementing, enhancing, or bringing new experiences to users.

In this chapter, we guide you through the numerous NFC applications that have evolved over the years or that are expected to come in the near future. First, a brief summary of the main strong points of NFC over other wireless technologies is provided. After that, we look at NFC-enabled mobile phones as the goose that lays golden eggs. Finally, before we begin to explore the applications, this chapter includes a basic explanation of the three modes of operation of NFC technology, illustrating the operational basis of NFC applications.

We hope this chapter provides glimpses of a future in which NFC technology has fully become a part of our life. Also, we hope it serves as a source of endless inspiration for anticipating the richness of the NFC world.

Advantages of NFC

Initially, the physical and behavioral aspects of NFC technology are described, and afterward, the companies and institutions that have contributed to the growth of this technology.

NFC: Physical and Behavioral Aspects
The advantages of NFC compared to other technologies are attracting significant interest for developing new applications. For example, NFC operates only when two devices are in close proximity (generally, around 4-5 cm), unlike RFID technology, which can read RFID tags over a longer distance. As a result, since its range is quite short and consequently intercepting signals is difficult, NFC-based transmissions are inherently secure. The NFC operating range is up to 20 cm, whereas Bluetooth's range varies from around 1 m to 100 m, and Wi-Fi can reach up to 300 m in an open environment.

Furthermore, unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the connection between two NFC devices is established at once, without involving either user intervention or device pairing in the initial discovery phase or other configuration settings. Apart from its zero configuration, NFC consumes significantly less power than these technologies, and it works even when one of the devices is not powered. This can be achieved thanks to the use of inductive coupling, which is typical of RFID. Thus, when an NFC-enabled mobile phone is turned off, NFC is still working in a passive way. An NFC device is considered active if is provided with a power supply and can transfer energy and data from one device to the other.

Compared to RFID, which is its closest brother, NFC can function as either RFID cards or readers. What is more, since it is compliant with ISO /IEC 14443, NFC can communicate and exchange data with existing RFID equipment such as the most widely extended NXP's Mifare (Mifare 2010) and Sony's FeliCa (Felica 2010). Similarly to RFID , NFC tags can be very small (0.5 mm2) and thus can be integrated in any device, have memory capacity (from kilobytes to over 1 Mb), and low price.

From the early days of its existence, all these features have contributed to forecasts of promising NFC applications, yet apart from the aforementioned advantage, two aesthetic advantages that can dramatically contribute to the growth of NFC are still missing. So far, we have explored the inner beauty of NFC reflected in factors such as closeness (inherent security), simplicity (zero configuration and zero administration), high value but humble (tiny size with memory capacity), dual personality (active and passive behavior), intelligence (low power consumption), and communicativeness (talks to RFID equipments).

Nonetheless, there is an unmatched, eye-catching aesthetic simplicity that can dramatically impact user perception and that has not been mentioned above: its natural language, which breaks all linguistic barriers. It is a language that consists of a simple hand movement, waving or touching, while holding an NFC-enabled device. This is attractive to people and has the potential to simplify their interactions with the environment: a person with an NFC-enabled device by simple wave or touch is able to establish an NFC connection, that is, to interact with different devices in their ambient area; i.e., home, office, city. These NFC transactions can be used for user identification, payments, ticketing, or picking up information, among others, as will be seen.

Breakthroughs in antennas, integrated circuits, and batteries have led to the emergence of a new generation of NFC technology. This is the second aesthetic advantage: the technology being small enough to be embedded into common everyday objects, particularly mobile phones. This issue has also generated much interest in consumers. Thus, the catchphrase "all you need in one device" and mobility can be fulfilled.

The Growth of NFC
Beyond the nature of this technology, some organizations and initiatives are contributing to paving the way for its rollout in full swing. In 2002, Europe's Ecma International adopted NFC as a standard, and later in 2003, NFC became an ISO /IEC standard. Afterward, in 2004 the two main developers, Philips and Sony, together with Nokia founded the NFC Forum as a nonprofit industry association to promote NFC by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services, and facilitating the NFC market (Forum 2004).

These days, the NFC Forum consists of 140 members that range from manufacturers to financial services institutions and application developers. In 2007, the GSM Association (GSMA) started taking more interest in this standard under the initiative Pay-Buy-Mobile (GSMA 2007, Pay 2007). The main objective of this initiative is to enable the worldwide use of mobile phones for fast and secure payments. Thirty-four of the world's largest mobile network operators have worked together on this initiative. They are focused on defining a common global approach to overcoming the problems of expanding and bringing to maturity the use of NFC mobile phones to make payments.

The first NFC steps have come in the area of NFC payments, and apart from the GS M Association, other industry associations have wanted to accelerate widespread NFC adoption and usage for payments: the EMVCo and the SmartCard Alliance. The EMVCo LLC was launched in 1999 by the main card issuers; i.e., American Express, JCB, MasterCard, and Visa, to maintain and enhance the EMVTM integrated circuit card specifications. EMVTM is a global standard for chip-based credit and debit payment cards. The participants pursued to ensure interoperability for payment systems, including not only chip-based payment cards but also acceptance devices (Point-of-Sales terminals and ATMs) (EMVCo 1999).

Complementary to EMVCo's goal, the SmartCard Alliance, a multi-industry association with over 170 members worldwide, including participants from financial, government, enterprise, transportation, mobile telecommunications, healthcare, and retail industries, seeks to address NFC opportunities and challenges in industry (SmartCard 1997). In 2010, EMVC o, the SmartCard Alliance, the GS M Association, and the NFC Forum showed its first signs of collaboration by signing a memorandum of understanding describing their agreement to collaborate in further developments of the NFC market and NFC-based solutions. "Union is strength" describes the spirit of these associations.

NFC Embedded in Mobile Phones

A mobile phone seems to be the most valuable player or the best-quality signing instrument in the field of NFC applications. NFC technology is currently mainly focused on its use by means of mobile phones, a device that already travels with users and does not need any special card or equipment to make use of NFC services. This is of particular importance for users and environmental considerations due to the ever-increasing number of plastic cards, keys, and tickets, although there are additional reasons for using NFC-enabled mobile phones.

Why Use Mobile Phones
The following are a number of reasons that are highly significant for the usage of mobile phones in NFC services:

  • Anywhere personal device: Recently, especially during the last decade, mobile phones have become very popular the world over, and almost everybody carries a phone everywhere and anytime. Hence, it is always with us, and furthermore, the number of mobile phones in use is rising every day worldwide. It meets the requirements of an all-in-one personal device.
  • Processing power and memory: Mobile phones are increasingly being used for more than making calls; they are becoming little computers with their own operating systems and applications. A key feature of NFC is that users can also download software to them. In addition, other hardware elements, such as radios, video cameras, and GPS (Global Positioning System), among others, are increasingly being integrated on them, which can also be useful.
  • Network advances: The mobile network is essential to enable remote application provisioning for NFC services. In that way, the continuous availability of the connected network also plays an important role. The use of advanced network technologies, such as 3G and 4G, makes it part of the NFC infrastructure. These technologies offer, on the one hand, greater security and faster speed than their predecessors, and on the other hand, they offer new applications: mobile TV, mobile Internet, multimedia, and so on.
  • User interface elements: The user-phone interface elements of mobile phones-displays, touch screens, keyboards, sounds, and vibrations-together with features such as music, video, and photo player and recorder add significant and greater value to NFC services and applications. They provide a way of interacting with the NFC ecosystem.
  • UICC features: NFC can leverage many features of UICC (Universal Integrated Circuit Card): integrity management of personal data, processing power, I/O circuits, memory storage, and extended security management functionality (Pay 2007). Traditional security features of UICC s are keys and algorithms for subscriber authentication; since cards are removable, they hold user subscription identity when changing phones, the access can be protected by the use of a PIN code, and it requires a PU K code for locking it out.

    Beyond that, advances in security management have also emerged for hosting applications provided by multiple third parties. For example, the UICC can be partitioned into several security domains, and each party's application can be run in each partition, maintaining data confidentiality and access protection among the parties' applications. The UICC can be seen as the secure element for NFC services. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that UICC universal deployment and standards are expected to collaborate on global interoperability.

  • Mobile services: NFC can leverage multiple services already available for mobile phones: request of ringtones, television, mobile Internet, media player, applets on SIMs to access Pay-TV content, Digital Rights Management (DR M) for storing rights for pictures, videos, sounds, and so on, and Over-The-Air (OTA) administration, such as activation/deactivation or personalization of the individual trust sectors via a trusted third party.
  • NFC already available in mobile phones: Most manufacturers are already supporting NFC. Although it is still in its infancy, NFC has attained a certain maturity, and it is contributing to the creation of new applications, and thus a new business landscape. A first sign of maturity is the fact that these days many mobile phones equipped with NFC are already available on the market from most of manufacturers; for instance, BenQ, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sagem, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson; Apple is already testing an NFC-enabled iPhone and so on.

As a result, NFC technology together with mobile telephony appears to have several advantages over traditional contactless technology, including high-speed peer-to-peer communications; media, Internet, and OTA services, which are used to configure your mobile phone with your applications, and access to facilities on the mobile phone; i.e., screen, keyboard, memory, and processing power, among other attributes.

NFC Mobile Phones
An NFC-enabled phone is made up of the following components: a baseband with the handset operating system, an NFC unit/chip, an antenna to capture contactless data, and an NFC controller that interfaces with the UICC and handset memory. The NFC controller handles three modes of operation or communication: Card emulation, Read/Write, and Peer-to-Peer (P2P). These modes will be briefly described in the next section. The UICC element processes data coming from the phone and from the NFC chip, that is, from other NFC elements.

In 2007, the Nokia 6131 was the first NFC mobile phone to appear. At that time, some trials were conducted that highlighted some performance issues to be solved. Research was carried out to address higher security to transmit user's payments to banks or other type of information, and now these NFC handsets seem to be mature.

Other NFC-Enabled Elements
NFC was born with a silver spoon in its mouth; nevertheless, the NFC ecosystem needs to become widespread. The term NFC ecosystem has often been used in the literature to refer to an environment required for NFC services to emerge. NFC mobile phones present significant business opportunities for applications such as payments, ticketing, identification, physical access control, loyalty, and many other services.

To create this NFC ecosystem, several "organisms" are needed, for example, mobile carriers, financial institutions, and mobile network operators. In addition, a habitat or environmental area inhabited by these organisms and human beings needs to be introduced. This habitat will be formed with NFC technology embedded in

  • Personal computers: Including desktops, notebooks, netbooks, ultramobile PCs, tablets, or pocket PCs. The integration of NFC technology will enable future NFC applications such as the automatic synchronization of your phone calendar with your PC calendar.
  • Transportation: NFC elements in means of transport such as buses, trains, trams, underground, taxis, airplanes, or public bikes. Also, NFC should be integrated in stations and airports.
  • Merchant and other service providers: For example, shops, restaurants, hotels, drinks, and food packaging or dispensers.
  • Access control points: Monitoring access to restricted areas and thus increasing security.
  • Consumer electronic devices: For example, audio and video players, radio, or e-book readers. This will enable easy delivery of audio and video data or documents.
  • Urban settings: Posters, information tags located in public places and elevators to provide new existing services such as for entertainment events and tourism.

Three Modes of Operation

This section describes the three modes of operation of an NFC-enabled device (Tags 2009). This classification helps in understanding how the wide range of applications works. These three operation modes have emerged to define the main use cases for NFC: card/tag emulation, reader/writer mode, and P2P mode.

Mostly, NFC-enabled devices can operate in reader/writer and P2P mode, and may function as contactless cards (card emulation mode); whereas NFC tags are passive tags that store data to be read by an NFC-enabled device.

Card/Tag Emulation Mode
In this operation mode, an NFC mobile phone can emulate a contactless card, for example, to purchase goods and services, to access services in public places in public transport. Thus, NFC mobiles phones can communicate with merchant Point-Of-Sales (POS), ticket machines, or any other object. To date, this is the most widely adopted mode, and it can leverage existing RFID -based equipment. It is worthy of mention that today contactless cards are already being used in payments and ticketing.

This mode, although it behaves like traditional contactless cards, can go beyond the functions of the traditional contactless cards: identification, authentication, and data storage. This can be mainly achieved by means of NFC-enabled mobile phones. For example, the read information can be displayed on the mobile phone screen, and user authentication can be requested.

Reader/Writer Mode
This operation mode allows applications to transfer data in a non-secure way. The NFC-enabled device operates actively, and it can read or write passive NFC or RFID tags. These tags could be embedded in a smart poster or any other everyday object. Mostly, the application data information stored on them can be the following: a URI, that is, a string of characters used to identify a name or a resource on the Internet, such as an URL, a telephone number, an SMS, or an e-mail address; general text; business card information, for example, virtual business cards, called vCards, with personal details; handover parameters for Bluetooth or Wi-Fi; and a signature, or a combination of them.

Peer-to-Peer Mode
The third mode of operation is the peer-to-peer (P2P) mode, which supports local bidirectional communication between two NFC devices, device link-level communication. Two or more NFC devices can exchange information: vCards, digital photos, sharing Bluetooth or Wi-Fi set up parameters. This is not supported by the contactless communication API.

Operation Modes: NFC versus Smart Cards
This section explores the advantages of NFC compared to contactless smart cards in terms of operation. The following advantages can be highlighted (Essentials 2008):

  • Interactivity: Thanks to phone interfaces and features, the card emulation mode can be used interactively by the user. For example, services can be presented visually on a mobile phone, or users can activate or deactivate an NFC application through the phone interface (i.e., touch screen, keyboard).
  • Management of multiple contactless applications: This management is already supported by contactless cards, but the continuous mobile network capabilities add functionality to this multi-application management, mainly functionality related to security and risks with NFC services. Service providers can provide a trusted execution environment, assignment of trusted areas, application downloads, user personalization, and service locking/unlocking. From a user perspective, users can ask the service provider to stop NFC applications when a terminal is stolen or lost; that is, the UICC data can be modified over the air.
  • Management of user preferences: The continuous communication of mobile networks offers new management tools from a user and service provider viewpoint. Users can access their personal data in real time and can change the information they would like to receive. On the other hand, service providers, with user consent, can retrieve information about NFC service usage records and can send users customized information.
  • Coexistence of NFC services but provided by different third parties: Compared to a contactless card issued by a single service provider, an NFC mobile phone can manage and operate services from different service providers. This can be achieved because the UICC can be divided into security domains.

NFC has evolved to the point at which it offers significant benefits in a wide range of applications. In the rest of the chapter, we introduce some applications to provide you a glimpse of the goals and capabilities of NFC technology.

About the Author

Near Field Communications Handbook, edited by Syed A. Ahson and Mohammad Ilyas, ISBN 9781420088144, $99.95 From Near Field Communications Handbook edited by Syed A. Ahson and Mohammad Ilyas. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press LLC, 2012.

© Copyright 2011 Auerbach Publications