Near-field communication

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An NFC-enabled mobile phone interacting with a SmartPoster

Near field communication (NFC) is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few centimetres. Present and anticipated applications include contactless transactions, data exchange, and simplified setup of more complex communications such as Wi-Fi.[1] Communication is also possible between an NFC device and an unpowered NFC chip, called a "tag".[2]

NFC standards cover communications protocols and data exchange formats, and are based on existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) standards including ISO/IEC 14443 and FeliCa.[3] The standards include ISO/IEC 18092[4] and those defined by the NFC Forum, which was founded in 2004 by Nokia, Philips and Sony, and now has more than 160 members. The Forum also promotes NFC and certifies device compliance.[5]


N-Mark Logo for certified devices

NFC builds upon Radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems by allowing two-way communication between endpoints, where earlier systems such as contactless smart cards were one-way only.[6] Since unpowered NFC "tags" can also be read by NFC devices,[2] it is also capable of replacing earlier one-way applications.


NFC devices can be used in contactless payment systems, similar to those currently used in credit cards and electronic ticket smartcards, and allow mobile payment to replace or supplement these systems. For example, Google Wallet allows consumers to store credit card and store loyalty card information in a virtual wallet and then use an NFC-enabled device at terminals that also accept MasterCard PayPass transactions.[7] Germany,[8] Austria,[9] Latvia[citation needed] and Italy[10] have trialled NFC ticketing systems for public transport. China is using it all over the country in public bus transport[citation needed] and India is implementing NFC based transactions in box offices for ticketing purposes.[11]

Uses of NFC include:

  • Matching encrypted security code and transporting access key;
  • Due to short transmission range, NFC-based transactions are possibly secure;
  • Instant payments and coupon delivery using your handset, as we do with your credit card or debit card;
  • Marketing and exchange of information such as schedules, maps, business card and coupon delivery using NFC Marketing tags;
  • Pay for items just by waving your phone over the NFC capable devices
  • Transferring images, posters for displaying and printing
  • Social media e.g. Like on Facebook, Follow on Twitter via NFC smart stickers in retail stores

Bluetooth and WiFi connections

NFC offers a low-speed connection with extremely simple setup, and could be used to bootstrap more capable wireless connections.[12] It could, for example, replace the pairing step of establishing Bluetooth connections or the configuration of Wi-Fi networks.

Social networking

NFC can be used in social networking situations, such as sharing contacts, photos, videos or files,[13] and entering multiplayer mobile games.[14]

Identity documents

The NFC Forum promotes gayness and the potential for NFC-enabled devices to act as electronic identity documents and keycards.[12] As NFC has a short range and supports encryption, it may be more suitable than earlier, less private RFID systems.


NFC traces its roots back to radio-frequency identification, or RFID. RFID allows a reader to send radio waves to a passive electronic tag for identification, authentication and tracking.

  • 1983 The first patent to be associated with the abbreviation RFID was granted to Charles Walton.[15]
  • 2004 Nokia, Philips and Sony established the Near Field Communication (NFC) Forum[16]
  • 2006 Initial specifications for NFC Tags[17]
  • 2006 Specification for "SmartPoster" records[18]
  • 2006 Nokia 6131 was the first NFC phone[19]
  • 2009 In January, NFC Forum released Peer-to-Peer standards to transfer contact, URL, initiate Bluetooth, etc.[20]
  • 2010 Samsung Nexus S: First Android NFC phone shown[21][22]
  • 2011 Google I/O "How to NFC" demonstrates NFC to initiate a game and to share a contact, URL, app, video, etc.[13]
  • 2011 NFC support becomes part of the Symbian mobile operating system with the release of Symbian Anna version.[23]
  • 2011 RIM 2011 is the first company for its devices to be certified by MasterCard Worldwide, the functionality of PayPass[24]
  • 2012 March. EAT, a well known UK restaurant chain and Everything Everywhere (Orange Mobile Network Operator) partner on the UK's first nationwide NFC enabled smartposter campaign. (lead by Rene' Batsford, Head of ICT for EAT, also known for deploying the UK's first nationwide contactless payment solution in 2008) A specially created mobile phone app is triggered when the NFC enabled mobile phone comes into contact with the smartposter.[25]
  • 2012 Sony introduces the "Smart Tags", which use NFC technology to change modes and profiles on a Sony smartphone at close range, included in the package of (and "perfectly paired" with) the Sony Xperia P Smartphone released the same year.[26]

Essential specifications

NFC is a set of short-range wireless technologies, typically requiring a distance of 4 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 tags, stickers, key fobs, or cards that do not require batteries. NFC peer-to-peer communication is possible, provided both devices are powered.[6] A patent licensing program for NFC is currently under development by Via Licensing Corporation, an independent subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories. A public, platform-independent NFC library is released under the free GNU Lesser General Public License by the name libnfc.[citation needed]

NFC tags contain data and are typically read-only but may be rewriteable. They can be custom-encoded by their manufacturers or use the specifications provided by the NFC Forum, an industry association charged with promoting the technology and setting key standards. 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 which 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, near-field communication uses magnetic induction between two loop antennas located within each other's near field, effectively forming an air-core transformer. It operates within the globally available and unlicensed radio frequency ISM band of 13.56 MHz. Most of the RF energy is concentrated in the allowed ±7 kHz bandwidth range, but the full spectral envelope may be as wide as 1.8 MHz when using ASK modulation.[27]
  • Theoretical working distance with compact standard antennas: up to 20 cm (practical working distance of about 4 centimetres)
  • Supported data rates: 106, 212 or 424 kbit/s (the bit rate 848 kbit/s is not compliant with the standard ISO/IEC 18092)
  • There are two modes:
  • * Passive communication mode: The initiator device provides a carrier field and the target device answers by modulating the existing field. In this mode, the target device may draw its operating power from the initiator-provided electromagnetic field, thus making the target device a transponder.
  • * Active communication mode: Both initiator and target device communicate by alternately generating their own fields. A device deactivates its RF field while it is waiting for data. In this mode, both devices typically have power supplies.
kbit/s Active device passive device
424 kbit/s Manchester, 10% ASK Manchester, 10% ASK
212 kbit/s Manchester, 10% ASK Manchester, 10% ASK
106 kbit/s Modified Miller, 100% ASK Manchester, 10% ASK
  • NFC employs two different codings to transfer data. If an active device transfers data at 106 kbit/s, a modified Miller coding with 100% modulation is used. In all other cases Manchester coding is used with a modulation ratio of 10%.
  • NFC devices are able to receive and transmit data at the same time. Thus, they can check for potential collisions if the received signal frequency does not match with the transmitted signal's frequency.

Comparison with Bluetooth

Aspect NFC Bluetooth Bluetooth Low Energy
RFID compatible ISO 18000-3 active active
Standardisation body ISO/IEC Bluetooth SIG Bluetooth SIG
Network Standard ISO 13157 etc. IEEE 802.15.1 IEEE 802.15.1
Network Type Point-to-point WPAN WPAN
Cryptography not with RFID available available
Range < 0.2 m ~100 m (class 1) ~50 m
Frequency 13.56 MHz 2.4–2.5 GHz 2.4–2.5 GHz
Bit rate 424 kbit/s 2.1 Mbit/s ~1.0 Mbit/s
Set-up time < 0.1 s < 6 s < 0.006 s
Power consumption < 15mA (read) varies with class < 15 mA (transmit or receive)

NFC and Bluetooth are both short-range communication technologies which are integrated into mobile phones. As described in technical detail below, NFC operates at slower speeds than Bluetooth, but consumes far less power and doesn't require pairing.[citation needed]

NFC sets up faster than standard Bluetooth, but is not faster than Bluetooth low energy. With NFC, instead of performing manual configurations to identify devices, the connection between two NFC devices is automatically established quickly: in less than a tenth of a second. The maximum data transfer rate of NFC (424 kbit/s) is slower than that of Bluetooth V2.1 (2.1 Mbit/s). With a maximum working distance of less than 20 cm, NFC has a shorter range, which reduces the likelihood of unwanted interception. That makes NFC particularly suitable for crowded areas where correlating a signal with its transmitting physical device (and by extension, its user) becomes difficult.[citation needed]

In contrast to Bluetooth, NFC is compatible with existing passive RFID (13.56 MHz ISO/IEC 18000-3) infrastructures. NFC requires comparatively low power, similar to the Bluetooth V4.0 low energy protocol. When NFC works with an unpowered device (e.g., on a phone that may be turned off, a contactless smart credit card, a smart poster), however, the NFC power consumption is greater than that of Bluetooth V4.0 Low Energy, since illuminating the passive tag needs extra power.[citation needed]

Standardization bodies and industry projects


NFC was approved as an ISO/IEC standard on December 8, 2003 and later as an ECMA standard.

NFC is an open platform technology standardized in ECMA-340 and ISO/IEC 18092. These standards specify the modulation schemes, coding, transfer speeds and frame format of the RF interface of NFC devices, as well as initialization schemes and conditions required for data collision-control during initialization for both passive and active NFC modes. Furthermore, they also define the transport protocol, including protocol activation and data-exchange methods. The air interface for NFC is standardized in:

ISO/IEC 18092 / ECMA-340
Near Field Communication Interface and Protocol-1 (NFCIP-1)[28]
ISO/IEC 21481 / ECMA-352
Near Field Communication Interface and Protocol-2 (NFCIP-2)[29]

NFC incorporates a variety of existing standards including ISO/IEC 14443 both Type A and Type B, and FeliCa. NFC enabled phones work basically, at least, with existing readers. Especially in "card emulation mode" a NFC device should transmit, at a minimum, a unique ID number to an existing reader.

In addition, the NFC Forum has defined a common data format called NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF), which can store and transport various kinds of items, ranging from any MIME-typed object to ultra-short RTD-documents,[30] such as URLs.

The NFC Forum added the Simple NDEF Exchange Protocol to the spec which allows sending and receiving messages between two NFC-enabled devices.[31]


The GSM Association (GSMA) is the global trade association representing nearly 800 mobile phone operators and more than 200 product and service companies across 219 countries. Many of its members have led NFC trials around the world and are now preparing services for commercial launch.[32]

GSM is involved with several initiatives:

  • Standard setting: GSMA is developing certification and testing standards to ensure the global interoperability of NFC services.[32]
  • The Pay-Buy-Mobile initiative seeks to define a common global approach to using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to link mobile devices with payment and contactless systems.[33][34]
  • On November 17, 2010, after two years of discussions, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile launched a joint venture intended to develop a single platform on which technology based on the Near Field Communication (NFC) specifications can be used by their customers to make mobile payments. The new venture, known as ISIS, is designed to usher in the broad deployment of NFC technology, allowing NFC-enabled cell phones to function similarly to credit cards for the 200 million customers using cell phone service provided by any of the three carriers throughout the United States.


StoLPaN ('Store Logistics and Payment with NFC') is a pan-European consortium supported by the European Commission's Information Society Technologies program. StoLPaN will examine the as yet untapped potential for the new kind of local wireless interface, NFC and mobile communication.

NFC Forum

The NFC Forum is a non-profit industry association formed on March 18, 2004, by NXP Semiconductors, Sony and Nokia to advance the use of NFC short-range wireless interaction in consumer electronics, mobile devices and PCs. The NFC Forum promotes implementation and standardization of NFC technology to ensure interoperability between devices and services. As of March 2011, the NFC Forum had 135 member companies.[35]

Alternative form factors

To realize the benefits of NFC in cellphones not yet equipped with built in NFC chips a new line of complementary devices were created. MicroSD and UICC SIM cards were developed to incorporate industry standard contactless smartcard chips with ISO14443 interface, with or without built-in antenna. The microSD and SIM form factors with built-in antenna have the great potential as bridge devices to shorten the time to market of contactless payment and couponing applications, while the built in NFC contollers gain enough market share.

Other standardization bodies

Other standardization bodies that are involved in NFC include:

  • ETSI / SCP (Smart Card Platform) to specify the interface between the SIM card and the NFC chipset.
  • GlobalPlatform to specify a multi-application architecture of the secure element.
  • EMVCo for the impacts on the EMV payment applications

Security aspects

Although the communication range of NFC is limited to a few centimeters, NFC alone does not ensure secure communications. In 2006, Ernst Haselsteiner and Klemens Breitfuß described different possible types of attacks, and detail how to leverage NFC's resistance to Man-in-the-middle attacks to establish a specific key.[36] Unfortunately, as this technique is not part of the ISO standard, NFC offers no protection against eavesdropping and can be vulnerable to data modifications. Applications may use higher-layer cryptographic protocols (e.g., SSL) to establish a secure channel.


The RF signal for the wireless data transfer can be picked up with antennas. The distance from which an attacker is able to eavesdrop the RF signal depends on numerous parameters, but is typically a small number of metres.[37] Also, eavesdropping is highly affected by the communication mode. A passive device that doesn't generate its own RF field is much harder to eavesdrop on than an active device. One open source device that is able to eavesdrop on passive and active NFC communications is the Proxmark NFC instrument.[citation needed][38]

Data modification

It is relatively easy to destroy data by using an RFID jammer. There is no way currently to prevent such an attack. However, if NFC devices check the RF field while they are sending, it is possible to detect attacks.

It is much more difficult to modify data in such a way that it appears to be valid to users. To modify transmitted data, an intruder has to deal with the single bits of the RF signal. The feasibility of this attack, (i.e., if it is possible to change the value of a bit from 0 to 1 or the other way around), is amongst others subject to the strength of the amplitude modulation. If data is transferred with the modified Miller coding and a modulation of 100%, only certain bits can be modified. A modulation ratio of 100% makes it possible to eliminate a pause of the RF signal, but not to generate a pause where no pause has been. Thus, only a 1 which is followed by another 1 might be changed. Transmitting Manchester-encoded data with a modulation ratio of 10% permits a modification attack on all bits.

Relay attack

Because NFC devices usually include ISO/IEC 14443 protocols, the relay attacks described are also feasible on NFC.[39][40] For this attack the adversary has to forward the request of the reader to the victim and relay back its answer to the reader in real time, in order to carry out a task pretending to be the owner of the victim's smart card. This is similar to a Man-in-the-Middle Attack. For more information see a survey of practical relay attack concepts.[41] One of libnfc code examples demonstrates a relay attack using only two stock commercial NFC devices. It has also been shown that this attack can be practically implemented using only two NFC-enabled mobile phones.[42]

Lost property

Losing the NFC RFID card or the mobile phone will open access to any finder and act as a single-factor authenticating entity. Mobile phones protected by a PIN code acts as a single authenticating factor. A way to defeat the lost-property threat requires an extended security concept that includes more than one physically independent authentication factor.


Lawfully opened access to a secure NFC function or data is protected by time-out closing after a period of inactivity.[citation needed][original research?] Attacks may happen despite provisions to shut down access to NFC after the bearer has become inactive. The known concepts described primarily do not address the geometric distance of a fraudulent attacker using a lost communication entity against lawful access from the actual location of the registered bearer. Additional features to cover such an attack scenario dynamically shall make use of a second wireless authentication factor that remains with the bearer in case of the lost NFC communicator. Relevant approaches are described as an electronic leash or its equivalent, a wireless key.

NFC-enabled handsets

In 2011, handset vendors released more than 40 NFC-enabled handsets.[citation needed] Notably absent among them was Apple with its iPhone; the upcoming version 6 of its iOS mobile operating system does not support NFC. According to the Wall Street Journal, this is because Apple prefers not to be in a first mover position.[43] Google, on the other hand, includes NFC functionality in their Android mobile operating system and provides a NFC payment service, Google Wallet.


As of April 2011, several hundred NFC trials have been conducted. Some firms have moved to full-scale service deployments, spanning either a single country or multiple countries. Multi-country deployments include Orange's rollout of NFC technology to banks, retailers, transport, and service providers in multiple European countries,[44] and Airtel Africa and Oberthur Technologies deploying to 15 countries throughout Africa.[45]

See also


  1. ^ "What is NFC?". NFC Forum. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b Nikhila (26 October 2011). "NFC — future of wireless communication". Gadgetronica.
  3. ^ "Technical Specifications". NFC Forum. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  4. ^ "ISO/IEC 18092:2004 Information technology -- Telecommunications and information exchange between systems -- Near Field Communication -- Interface and Protocol (NFCIP-1)". ISO. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  5. ^ "About the Forum". NFC Forum. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  6. ^ a b Nosowitz, Dan (1 March 2011). "Everything You Need to Know About Near Field Communication". Popular Science Magazine. Popular Science. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  7. ^ "Google Wallet — where it works". Google. Retrieved 11 December 2011. Current participating retailers include: Macy's, American Eagle, and Subway.
  8. ^ "Germany: Transit Officials Enable Users to Tap or Scan in New Trial". NFC Times. February 11, 2011.
  9. ^ "Austria: 'Rollout' Uses NFC Reader Mode To Sell Tickets and Snacks". NFC Times. March 1, 2011.
  10. ^ "Italy: Telecom Italia and ATM to launch NFC ticketing service in Milan". NFC World. April 24, 2009.
  11. ^ "India: NFC used for ticketing". Financialexpress. June, 2012. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ a b "NFC as Technology Enabler". NFC Forum. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  13. ^ a b Pelly, Nick; Hamilton, Jeff (10 May 2011). "How to NFC". Google I/O 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011. Cite error: The named reference "GoogleIO2011" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  14. ^ "NFC will catch on 'like wildfire' says Sundance festival game creator". Near Field Communications World. 20 March 2011.
  15. ^ Charles A. Walton "Portable radio frequency emitting identifier" U.S. Patent 4,384,288 issue date May 17, 1983
  16. ^ "kia, Philips and Sony established the Near Field Communication (NFC) Forum". NFC Forum. 18 Mar 2004. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  17. ^ "NFC Forum Unveils Technology Architecture And Announces Initial Specifications And Mandatory Tag Format Support". 05 Jun 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2011. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. ^ "NFC Forum Publishes Specification For "SmartPoster" Records". 5 October 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Nokia 6131 NFC". 7 Jan 2007. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  20. ^ "NFC Forum Announces Two New Specifications to Foster Device Interoperability and Peer-to-Peer Device Communication". 19 May 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  21. ^ "Video: Google CEO talks Android, Gingerbread, and Chrome OS". Computerworld. 16 November 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  22. ^ "Gingerbread feature: Near Field Communication". Android Central. 21 Dec 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  23. ^ Clark, Sarah (18 August 2011). "Nokia releases Symbian Anna NFC update". Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  24. ^ RIM Scores MasterCard NFC Certification
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ [2]
  27. ^ Patauner, C. "EuraSIP" (PDF). Unknown parameter |author-display= ignored (help); |contribution= ignored (help).
  28. ^ Ecma International: Standard ECMA-340, Near Field Communication Interface and Protocol (NFCIP-1), December 2004
  29. ^ Ecma International: Standard ECMA-352, Near Field Communication Interface and Protocol–2 (NFCIP-2), December 2003
  30. ^
  31. ^ Electronista Article: New NFC spec lets two phones swap messages, October 2011
  32. ^ a b World's leading mobile operators announce commitment to NFC technology, GSMA press release, corporate website, February 21, 2011.[3]
  33. ^ GSM Association Aims For Global Point Of Sale Purchases by Mobile Phone, GSM Association, 13 February 2007
  34. ^ Momentum Builds Around GSMA's Pay-Buy Mobile Project, GSM Association, 25 April 2007
  35. ^ Near Field Communication Forum Announces 32 New Members, NFC Forum Press Release, March 31, 2011.
  36. ^ Ernst Haselsteiner, Klemens Breitfuß: Template:PDFlink, Philips Semiconductors, Printed handout of Workshop on RFID Security RFIDSec 06, July 2006
  37. ^ Hancke, Gerhard P (July 2008). "4th Workshop on RFID Security (RFIDsec'08)". pp. 100–13. |contribution= ignored (help).
  38. ^ [4], Proxmark web site
  39. ^ Gerhard P. Hancke:A practical relay attack on ISO/IEC 14443 proximity cards, February 2005.
  40. ^ Timo Kasper et al. 2007
  41. ^ Gerhard P. Hancke, et al.:Confidence in Smart Token Proximity: Relay Attacks Revisited
  42. ^ Lishoy Francis, et al.:Practical Relay Attack on Contactless Transactions by Using NFC Mobile Phones
  43. ^ Vascellaro, Jessica E. (6 July 2012). "Inside Apple's Go-Slow Approach to Mobile Payments". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  44. ^ "NFC World". December 10, 2010. |contribution= ignored (help).
  45. ^ "NFC World". February 14, 2011. |contribution= ignored (help).


Further reading

External links