A Quick History of Near Field Communication (NFC)

By Robert R. Sabella

As with most technologies, NFC didn’t just appear on the horizon one day. Various companies spent a good deal of time putting the specifics for NFC together. In addition, these companies used existing technologies, in this case Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), as a starting point. (RFID was a 1983 invention of Charles Walton, but its origins can be traced back to WWII.

NFC is actually a technology that overlaps RFID — it uses a shorter operating distance for the sake of security. The figure shows the key dates for NFC milestones that have affected how the technology has changed over time. Even though the NFC effort started in 2002, the International Standards Organization (ISO) didn’t approve NFC as an acceptable standard until 2003.

Significant accomplishments in NFC technology.

As shown, NFC tags — small sticker-like devices used to store information or data in a manner that an NFC-enabled device can read or optionally write — didn’t come in a standardized form until 2006. When an NFC-enabled device moves over the tag, it can retrieve the information the tag contains. NFC tags use a standardized form so that any NFC-enabled device can interact with any NFC tag — making NFC exceptionally easy to use.

One of the technologies that truly distinguishes NFC is the use of SmartPoster technology (a kind of visual display that incorporates both traditional poster content and digital content that an NFC-enabled device can read or optionally write). This standardized technology also appeared in 2006. You use it to provide digital information in a physical printed poster for people to access.

Passing a smartphone or other NFC-enabled device over specifically marked areas of the poster provides viewers with details they can take with them. The first use for SmartPosters that comes to mind is for public venues such as trade shows — no more need to waste money printing take-away brochures that end up on the floor anyway. However, SmartPosters can appear in all sorts of places, such as bus shelters, malls, and airports.

February 2006 saw the introduction of the first NFC-enabled cellphone, the Nokia 6131 NFC. (Not all versions of the Nokia 6131 provide NFC support.) This phone started the whole idea of being able to pass the phone over a tag and obtain information from it. By the time the Samsung Nexus S appeared on the scene in 2010, NFC support became a standard feature and the capabilities of NFC had improved significantly.

One of the significant additions to NFC is its capability to provide peer-to-peer support. In addition to reading information from tags, you can exchange information with another person by bringing your NFC-enabled smartphones closely together. Instead of having to deal with bulky business cards, NFC-enabled smartphones let you keep your connections in a place where they’re easily found, used, and managed. In addition to business connections, your peer-to-peer connection can also exchange data such as pictures, movies, and music.

NFC is growing significantly. It’s predicted that within five years, half or more of all phones made will have NFC support. Within ten years, people will use NFC data exchange as a preferred method for obtaining publicly available information from physical objects; although, the use of NFC will remain completely optional.