Have you ever made a contactless card payment? Used Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay? Have a swipe badge you use at work, school, college or Uni for getting though doors, gates or printing?

All of these things are harnessing a really cool technology called NFC, short for Near Field Communication.

NFC was first released to the public in 2002, but is based off a standard called RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), originally thought to be invented during the 2nd World War in 1983.

NFC comes in 2 modes, active and passive and multiple devices are used in the creation, transmission and receiving of NFC communications.

NFC tags are programmable passive chips, usually embedded in plastic cards such as credit/debit cards or ID swipe badges. These passive commercial-grade tags are designed to be read by active commercial scanners such as card machines and door sensors. They are also usually programmed by commercial-grade NFC writing devices, in batch.

You can purchase your own passive NFC tags, in card or sticker form, which can be programmed using your active smartphone with an NFC programming app such as NFC Tools. These can then be read by other phones actively supporting NFC. A common use of this is modern day business cards.

Finally, mobile contactless payment solutions such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay use NFC in active mode for the whole process. They use the smartphone’s NFC capabilites to generate a digitally pseudo NFC tag, which is read by an active commercial scanner such as a card machine.

If you’re wondering how passive NFC tags get read by active commercial scanners or smartphones, this is the clever bit. The chip storing the data and circuitry is connected to an antenna coil. When the NFC tag is brought close to the active scanner or smartphone, the signal output by the active scanner is strong enough to briefly power the NFC tag, though the coil antenna. This power allows the chip to be read and transmit the data back to the active scanner. Therefore, the bigger the NFC tag is, the more likely the coil antenna is going to be and in turn, the better the scanning accuracy will be.

NFC has been compatible with most smartphones for a while now, but only recently has Apple devices made the technology available for uses other than Apple Pay, so you may need to check if your device is compatible.

NFC supports nearly all of the same data formats as QR code… website links, email addresses, phone numbers, location addresses, vCards and more. Just bear in mind, you can get NFC tags with different amounts of storage, so you may be limited in what you can store, but it’s usually enough for a website link or email address of moderate length.

I hope you found learning about NFC technology as much as I did, especially after we’ve been using it all this time.

Thanks for reading!