The 5 NFC Tag Types

By Robert R. Sabella

Near Field Communication (NFC) tags let you perform various kinds of information-related tasks. For example, you can use a tag to store information on various topics at a kiosk. Each tag has specific functionality that lets you use the tag for particular tasks. NFC currently works with five tag types.

It’s important to remember that only the five tag types in use today are standardized and guaranteed to work with the NFC-enabled device you own today. Future tag types will require standardization and could potentially require some type of upgrade of your NFC-enabled device before you can read (or optionally write) them.

Tag-Types
A quick overview of the tag types.

Notice the active content row of the table. This row tells you whether a tag can modify itself. For example, a tag based on Java Card technology can include a self-incrementing counter that modifies the NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF) content on the card. Every time someone reads the card, the counter increments itself. This means that you can determine how many times someone has read the card, even if you aren’t the person using it. Only the 32 KB version of the Type 4 tag currently allows for active content.

Working with the NFC Type 1 tag

The NFC Type 1 tag is the simplest of the offerings. It’s also the slowest chip, but because of the simplicity it offers, it’s also possible to stuff more memory on this chip. Because these tags are simple, they also tend to be inexpensive, but can lack the functionality that you might need for some applications. You typically see these tags used for these types of applications:

  • One-time provisioning
  • Read-only applications
  • Business cards
  • Pairing devices with Bluetooth
  • Reading a specific tag when more than one tag is present

Working with the NFC Type 2 tag

The Type 2 tag tends to be the most popular offering because it offers just enough functionality at the right price to meet a wide range of needs. The Type 2 tag is also faster than the Type 1 tag, so you can rely on it in applications in which a user expects nearly instant communication. You typically see these tags used for these types of applications:

  • Low-value transactions
  • Day transit passes
  • Event tickets
  • URL redirects

Working with the NFC Type 3 tag

As mentioned in the “Investigating the Two Main NFC Standards” section of this chapter, the Type 3 tag relies on a different standard than the other tags in this group. The Sony FeliCa tag is a Japanese innovation and sees wide use in Asia. This is a sophisticated tag that provides a wide range of functionality, but also comes with a relatively high price tag. You typically see these tags used for these types of applications and used primarily in Japan:

  • Transit tickets
  • E-money
  • Electronic ID
  • Membership cards
  • E-tickets
  • Health care devices
  • Home electronics

Working with the NFC Type 4 tag

The Type 4 tag offers the most flexibility and memory of all the tags. It comes with a moderate to high price tag, depending on the amount of memory you get. The most important reason to get this tag is security: It offers the functionality needed to perform true authentication.

In addition, this is the only tag that provides support for ISO 7816 security as well as allows for self-modification of NDEF content. Given the extra capability that this tag provides, you typically see it used for transit ticket applications.

Working with the NFC Type 5 tag

The Type 5 tag offers support for the ISO/IEC 15693 specification. In this case, the NFC Forum chose to support Active Communication Mode, which allows overall data transfer performance similar to the RF technologies already supported by NFC Forum.

The reading distance is precisely the same as other NFC technologies. Because the standard mandates support for this mode, an NFC-enabled device that supports the Type 5 tag can read ISO/IEC 15693 tags. You typically see these tags used for these types of applications:

  • Library books, products, and packaging
  • Ticketing (such as ski passes)
  • Healthcare (medication packaging)

Proprietary hardware can present compatibility issues and other dangers. For example, the proprietary tags you find in use generally require proprietary applications. In addition, these tags may look like NFC to the device that can access them, but the proprietary hardware often fails to implement NDEF or other NFC standards. Examples of this problem include MIFARE Classic for transit applications and DESFire for building access control. In short, even though these tags may look and even work like NFC tags, they really aren’t NFC tags at all.

You’ll eventually encounter some of these tags as you work with real-world applications.