The launch of the Nexus S phone made a big splash for multiple reasons. The Google-marketed and Samsung-manufactured handset was the first smartphone to operate the latest Android OS 2.3. Other impressive stats include front- and rear-facing cameras, a Cortex A8 1GHz processor, a 400x88 Super AMOLED display, and something called Near Field Communications (NFC).
Most of the hardware features of the Nexus S you can find in other smartphones such as the iPhone 4. But the NFC is something that is still fairly rare in most mobile devices. That will likely change very soon.
So what is Near Field Communications? Technically speaking, it is a wireless communications standard used to send and receive data at very short (4 inches or less) distances. It operates in the unlicensed ISM 13.56MHz wireless band.
The NFC chip found in smartphones such as the Nexus S can operate either in passive or active mode. In passive mode, information stored on the NFC device can be read later. That means that all kinds of information can be stored on the NFC chip and called upon to be used in a variety of situations. Just look inside your wallet or purse and look at all the cards that an NFC chip can replace. Personally speaking, I look forward to the day where I no longer have to carry:
- Credit cards
- Debit cards
- Library card
- Parking/bus pass
- Building access card
- Business cards
- Secure-ID card (for two-factor authentication systems)
Come to think of it, maybe someday I won't need to carry my wallet at all.
Most people right now are discussing NFC purely from a credit-card replacement technology. While this is likely to happen, it's important to understand that NFC can be used for much more than a simple SpeedPass replacement. Using NFC as a card replacement tool is nice, but that's not where its true potential lies. Because NFC can work in active mode, your smartphone can not only send data, but receive data as well.
As more smartphones become equipped with NFC, you'll soon see many public places equipped with NFC information kiosks where you can download information such as maps, contacts, and other useful information with the click of a button. This information can be in multiple formats including text, images, audio, and video. NFC can be used to track people that "check-in" to NFC stations that are connected to a larger IP network. This form of RFID tagging is ideal for those situations where people are indoors, where GPS is rendered useless.
NFC will likely be heavily used for marketing as well. See an interesting ad while walking down the street? Just wave your NFC enabled smartphone in front of it and find more information about the product/service including the price and the closest place you can buy it in your vicinity.
There certainly are some security issues that arise from this wireless technology. All the traditional network-based security attacks will be possible to exploit, including eavesdropping, man-in-the middle attacks, and frequency jamming. But as with all technologies that change the way we as humans function, eventually those threats will be better understood, and the risk vs. reward will likely tip towards NFC use on a massive scale.
There is a high probability that the next smartphone you purchase will come standard with NFC. You may wish to try out NFC with a movie ticket purchase, at an information kiosk, or not at all. The decision is yours at this point. But the war against the wallet and purse is just beginning to heat up. I predict that five years from now, NFC (or similar technology) will render the wallet extinct.