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Home > New Gear > NFC: what is it, how does it work and what is it for?
NFC: what is it, how does it work and what is it for?

NFC: what is it, how does it work and what is it for?

By  Lydia Scott 2019-06-04 1181 0

Your phone or even your connected watch is most likely NFC (Near Field Communication) compatible. But do you know how this technology works, and especially what it is used for? Decryption!

NFC, or Near Field Communication, is a technology that allows data to be exchanged between a reader and any compatible mobile device or between the devices themselves. This is the technology used by your credit card for contactless payment, or your transport card. The advantage of this technology is that in principle, no application is required. Just bring the two supports closer together. Be careful, the latter must not be too far apart from each other: a maximum of ten centimetres!

Note that for this article, we will prefer the basic acronym to the French one, which is much less common - CCP for Communication in the Near Field.

Where is NFC used

NFC works with a chip that allows the exchange of information between two equipped devices. This can be between 2 phones, between a phone and a payment terminal or an enclosure. This technology is used by contactless credit card manufacturers. If your card is compatible, a small logo similar to that of Wi-Fi is present on it.

Before going any further: yes, Apple phones are equipped with NFC technology since iPhone 6, but Apple requires it, the uses are very limited. In fact, the NFC chip is only used for mobile payments through Apple Pay.

With Android, we can do a lot more if this little chip is integrated into our smartphone.

The actual applications can be divided into three main categories:

▪ card emulation

▪ the reader mode

▪ peer-to-peer data transfer

In the first case, the phone becomes a kind of smart card. This is called the "passive" mode. The phone sends information to the NFC receiver. The latter can be positioned in the doors of subway outlets or in a payment terminal. Thus, there are many uses: mobile payment, transport tickets, coupons, tickets, etc.

The second category concerns tags, these small electronic labels that are sometimes found on signs in cities or at bus stops. In other words, by passing your phone in front of these tags, you will collect practical information that will be automatically displayed on your phone. This type of use is similar to QR Codes.

Mobile payment

The most well known use of NFC is mobile payment. It's a small revolution: leave your credit cards in the dresser and pay with your phone. But then, how do we proceed?

You're lucky, we wrote a special report on this subject. However, you should know that many services offer this kind of functionality, but that large players such as Apple, Samsung and Google offer more complete and easier to use solutions.

The transport card (Navigo, Pastel, etc.)

Public transport users in large urban areas are used to regularly validating their transport cards. These cards also use NFC technology, so the smartphone can easily replace them when the agglomeration service plans to do so.

Several transport networks have already started on this subject. We were able to test the Navigo service in Île-de-France Mobilités with a Samsung smartphone. Tisséo also proposes to replace the Toulouse Pastel card on any Android smartphone with Ticket Easy.

On Apple's side, the brand's control over the NFC function does not facilitate the adaptation of transport services. As often, the firm intends to do things by itself and has already launched Apple Pay Transit in a handful of cities around the world (London, Chicago, Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow...).

Pair an accessory

NFC can be used to transfer connection data between a smartphone and an accessory. It has become common practice for Bluetooth headsets to offer NFC pairing mode, avoiding the need to go through more cumbersome parameter menus.

Generally, simply place the NFC zone of the accessory directly on the back of the phone, a notification appears on the smartphone to confirm the association between the two devices. It's easier than switching both devices to Bluetooth pairing mode and confirming security codes.

Sending data with NFC

Originally, NFC on mobile phones was mainly used for peer-to-peer transfer, i.e. to exchange data - files, photos, contacts - between two phones that have NFC. Since Android 4.0, smartphones have been using the system's native Android Beam feature.

To exchange files, applications, photos or music between two tablets or smartphones, you will use NFC in conjunction with Android Beam. Simply enable NFC on both devices, open the file you want to share and paste the two phones back to back. A small noise and vibration should confirm the success of the manoeuvre.

For a while, Samsung also offered its own function with S Beam, an extension of Android Beam. This technology used direct Wi-Fi to exchange files. This resulted in faster transfer speeds between devices. S Beam has now disappeared, but it is still possible to exchange files via direct Wi-Fi on Samsung devices.

Where Bluetooth is less convenient than NFC to pair two devices, it has the advantage of speed: NFC is not really suited for transferring large files.

How to activate NFC on your phone

Today, the vast majority of Android phones have an NFC chip, but you still need to know how to activate it. To do this, nothing complicated, you have to go to the phone settings and click on "Wireless and networks" or similar wording. This is where you can activate Android Beam and contactless payment.

Also note that most phones offer a shortcut to enable and disable NFC directly from the notification panel.

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