What is Near Field Communication (NFC)?

NFC is a set of short-range wireless technologies, typically requiring a separation of 10 cm or less. NFC operates at 13.56 MHz on ISO/IEC 18000-3 air interface and at rates ranging from 106 kbit/s to 424 kbit/s. NFC always involves an initiator and a target; the initiator actively generates an RF field that can power a passive target. This enables NFC targets to take very simple form factors such as unpowered tags, stickers, key fobs, or cards. NFC peer-to-peer communication is possible, provided both devices are powered.

NFC tags contain data and are typically read-only, but may be writable. They can be custom-encoded by their manufacturers or use NFC Forum specifications. The tags can securely store personal data such as debit and credit card information, loyalty program data, PINs and networking contacts, among other information. The NFC Forum defines four types of tags that provide different communication speeds and capabilities in terms of configurability, memory, security, data retention and write endurance. Tags currently offer between 96 and 4,096 bytes of memory.

As with proximity card technology, NFC uses inductive coupling between two nearby loop antennas effectively forming an air-core transformer. Because the distances involved are tiny compared to the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves) of that frequency (about 22 meters), the interaction is described as near field. Only an alternating magnetic field is involved so that almost no power is actually radiated in the form of radio waves (which are electromagnetic waves, also involving an oscillating electric field); that essentially prevents interference between such devices and any radio communications at the same frequency or with other NFC devices much beyond its intended range. They operate within the globally available and unlicensed radio frequency ISM band of 13.56 MHz. Most of the RF energy is concentrated in the ±7 kHz bandwidth allocated for that band, but the emission’s spectral width can be as wide as 1.8 MHz[41] in order to support high data rates.

Working distance with compact standard antennas and realistic power levels could be up to about 20 cm (but practically speaking, working distances never exceed 10 cm). Note that because the pickup antenna may be quenched by nearby metallic surfaces, the tags may require a minimum separation from such surfaces.

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