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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NFC vs ordinary RFID in mobile phones

I saw an interesting presentation today about RFID tags, mostly pertinent to industrial applications like asset tracking, logistics and so forth.

It made me start thinking about where the applications for NFC on handsets might stop, and "plain vanilla" RFID begin.

There are a number of differences here - NFC is more secure, but shorter-range. It is also being standardised and tied into various business models with operators. Conversely, RFID has longer range (passives work at up to 10 metres, and powered ones considerably more), but is generally a bit less secure.

The issue I see is that most of the NFC applications are heavily dependent on the slow churning wheel of industry standards, as well as (probably) being tied to mobile operators. This is fine in concept for some of the more "sensitive" applications like banking, but probably over-engineered for things like "smart posters" and the like. There is also a huge elephant in the room about how NFC links in to handset UI and applications. If I have a stored-value card like an Oyster "in my phone", I ought to be able to check my balance from the phone screen, look at recent transactions and so on. At present, the UI/app side of NFC appears woefully weak to me.

RFID on the other hand could have lots of simple applications - simply attaching a passive RFID sticker to phone could be useful for things like anti-theft, for example, or tracking an employee inside a building (where's the closest cardiologist to a patient in a hospital, for example).

I'm wondering if NFC is over-complicating the whole "short-range access" part of handsets, by having too much focus on (mostly pointless in the short term) applications like digital wallets.

1 comment:

Stefano Quintarelli said...

I suspect you're mixing two technologies. 10m is the range for UHF rfid which use inductive coupling while few cm is the range for HF rfid which use magnetic coupling.
Inductive coupling needs larger antennas and much more power. that's why rfid in phones is using hf rfid, of which NFC is a family.
the reason why it has not grown as a market so far lies partly in the fact that operators would not find any value in promoting it, while they subsidize the andset, because it would add costs to the handset and any value generated would have been captured by others (not the operators themselves).
NFC was conceived to have an integration with the secure element of the sim (which the operators control), something that is just appearing on the market. Now let costs go down for a year or so and expect a growth in rfid in the handsets in 2 years or so.
The PSD directive of the EU is in perfect timing to enable the new services.