By Robert R. Sabella

The NFC Forum is the standards organization that supports the Near Field Communication (NFC) ecosystem. NFC Forum members inform and contribute to the development of NFC standards and technical specifications. However, even if you aren’t a member, you can gain valuable information about NFC just by perusing the publicly available content. You can find more about the NFC Forum and its members on the Forum website.

NFC-ecosystem
Areas in which the NFC Forum provides a contribution to NFC development Courtesy of NFC Forum.

It’s important to realize that the NFC ecosystem doesn’t consist of just one particular group or meet one group’s needs. It’s a large number of different groups that work together to create NFC solutions. Yes, these solutions eventually end up in specific locations, but NFC is starting to crop up just about everywhere you can imagine.

The number of groups that make up the NFC ecosystem can be a bit overwhelming at first. If you simplify things a bit, though, you find that the groups make sense because they’re the same groups that are part of many other computing environments today. The following list presents a simplified view of the NFC ecosystem that makes understanding where other groups might fit in easier:

  • Low-level hardware: Someone has to make the chips that go into the tags and other hardware used to create an NFC solution. The semiconductor manufacturer listens to the market (notably, input from business users and consumers) to determine the features that a chip set should provide. As these manufacturers obtain more input, the quality of the chips it provides improves.
  • High-level hardware: Manufacturers receive descriptions of various chips from low-level hardware manufacturers, choose the chips that work best for the solutions they provide, and then produce a product such as a tag or a reader. High-level hardware manufacturers include reader manufacturers, smart card manufacturers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and mobile device Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).
  • Developers: Before the hardware can become useful, a developer must write an app to work with it. Developers create apps that perform all sorts of tasks with NFC. However, before you can be sure that the app will work in a reliable and secure manner, the app must go through a test and certification process. The NFC Forum provides guidelines on both the testing and certification process to ensure that the apps you receive are of the highest quality.
  • Resellers: You can buy NFC hardware alone and NFC software alone. In fact, you find many such situations here in the book. However, many buyers want a one-stop-shop solution. That’s where the system integrator comes into play. A system integrator takes an NFC device, pairs it with appropriate software, creates any required documentation, and sells the entire package to either a business user or a consumer.
  • Business users: A business user is an individual or organization that purchases both hardware and software from a reseller. Most people think about merchants as business users, but you must also consider banking institutions and other financial groups, telecom operators, and that person giving the presentation next week. Many of the most exciting uses for NFC today appear as part of education, research, or government applications. All these people and groups fall within the business-user category.
  • Consumers: Consumers are people who purchase NFC products to improve their personal lives in some way. Increasingly, consumers are using NFC in their homes, cars, and even in a business setting. Consumers end the cycle of purchases within the NFC ecosystem.