What is NFC?

Near Field Communication (short: NFC) is an international transmission standard for contactless exchange of data. There are other transmission standards like RFID, but NFC is characterized by a short range. NFC transmitters communicate via HF 13.56 MHz and exchange data with a maximum speed of 424 kBit/s. A data exchange between two NFC transmitters is only possible via short distances (1-4 cm).

Active and passive NFC transmitters

NFC transmitters can be divided into active and passive ones:

  • Active NFC transmitters have the ability to initiate a connection to other NFC transmitters on their own (e.g. smartphones and tablets).
  • Passive NFC transmitters don’t have the ability to initiate a connection on their own (e.g. NFC tags).

Active NFC transmitters are able to initiate connections because they contain an own energy source, which is needed to start a connection to another NFC transmitter. Passive transmitters like NFC tags don’t have such an energy source, so they are dependent on an active counterpart to transfer data. Once an active transmitter comes near a NFC tag, it provides the NFC tag with enough energy to transfer data via short distances (1-4 cm).

Types of NFC connections

There are two types of NFC connections:

  • Active mode: between two active NFC transmitters (also known as peer-to-peer connection)
  • Passive mode: between an active and a passive NFC transmitter

A NFC connection between two passive NFC transmitters isn’t possible, as both transmitters don’t have an own energy source, which is needed to initiate a connection.

In active mode both NFC devices (e.g. smartphones) generate an electromagnetic field, which enables them to exchange data in both directions. However, in passive mode only the active NFC transmitter generates such an electromagnetic field. Therefore, data can only be transferred from the passive NFC tag to the active NFC device.

How can I actually use NFC?

There are several NFC applications making our everyday life as well as work life more comfortable. Basically NFC tags can store various types of content like text, URLs and business cards, which can be read by NFC-enabled smartphones. Every type of content triggers a different reaction, when the NFC tag is scanned. For example, a website optimized for mobile phones directly opens, if a NFC tag with an URL is scanned. In case a business card is stored on a NFC tag, contact data are automatically transferred to contacts by scanning. Especially in everyday life it can be very comfortable to use NFC apps to write commands on a NFC tag. This way, several smartphone properties can be changed at once and even apps can be started automatically by scanning the NFC tag. Now, there are various NFC devices like NFC headsets on the market, which can be controlled via NFC-enabled smartphones. Moreover, some banks offer contactless cards, which enable a lot of citizens to pay via NFC.

Further information

NFC Smartphone

NFC-Tags for your Smartphone