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RFID is a broad term that covers many different types of chip and antenna combinations. The radio frequencies, reading distance and data encoding methods of the chip can vary enormously. NFC Tags on the other hand are very well defined and specified by the NFC forum, but can be considered as a special form of RFID strict specifications that allow them to be used in an open context.
Firstly, NFC tags are the products you can buy on this site. Technologically, they are a type of RFID chip or tag. They are designed to support NFC mobile device uses.
A tag has three main parts: the chip, the antenna and the paper or vinyl sticker itself. NFC tags tend to be self-adhesive but clearly don’t actually need to be so, however for this discussion we will assume that they are.
The antenna collects radio energy form the mobile phone when the phone is passed close to the tag. This energy is fed into the chip which receives just enough power to start it up and have brief conversation with the mobile phone. The special ‘trick’ with NFC is that this communication uses the same radio waves that power the chip so that the whole thing can be done in a single smooth pass. Reading an NFC tag in this way typically takes less than a second.
The antenna and chip combination are ‘sandwiched’ between two layers of the paper or vinyl one with some printed graphics facing the consumer and the other with the adhesive sticky bit. This allows the NFC tag to be stuck in any suitable location and the graphic allows users to identify the tags and use it.
When the tag is read as described above, the data on the tag is then available to the phone and various processing options are possible. This could range from opening a web page, making a phone call or sending an SMS. Such simplicity is achieved through the standardization of the NFC Data Encoding Format or NDEF as defined by the NFC forum.
The NDEF standard allows for a variety of data types and tag sub types to be handled in a stand way and so allowing app and mobile web developers to focus on the user experience rather than having to worry about the technical details of reading and parsing low level communications between the tag and phone.
Alongside the NDEF there are the Tag type standards that define the various tag types and the specifics of how they should be communicated with. All this adds up to a very straightforward mechanism for reading and of course writing to tags (which is done is exactly the same way but in reverse).
NFC, or near-field communication, is an easy and intuitive technology that allows you to use your mobile phone for special purposes. An NFC tag can share and link to information such as web pages, social media and all other sorts of other information generally. Other areas where NFC is starting to evolve into are making payments, opening doors secured with contactless locks, logging on to computers and many more. All of these actions have something in common, that is they invoke an action based on you placing your phone (or any other NFC device) near (the N in NFC) the thing you want to read or interact with.
NFC is bridging the gap between both the physical and virtual worlds. By bringing two devices near each other, there is a virtual reaction. Bluetooth and WiFi do not have this ease in set up. So the key feature of NFC is: It is automatic! There is no need to launch an application! …it just works!
In more technological terms, NFC defines the way two products communicate with each other. NFC is short range wireless RFID technology (1-4cm realistically, 10cm theoretically) which uses low speeds (106-414 kbps) and a low friction setup (no discovery and no pairing), which then allows two devices to automatically start communicating when they are close to one another.
Well the main usage people think of is payment. Contactless banking cards are becoming more and more common and a NFC phone can act like a contactless bank card. This means that when you are in a shop and ready to pay, rather than getting your standard plastic card out you can put your phone near a payment ‘reader’ and complete the payment.
The next thing that is commonly talked about after payments is access control or simply door security. Many offices and public spaces have contactless readers that keep doors locked and authorized people can use a contactless card to open the door. Again the NFC phone can play the role of the door entry security card and open the door, when it is place in the field (the F in NFC) of the door reader.
This being said (or written), there are many things you can do with NFC, some of which we have candidly listed here.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to identify and track objects.
The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.
RFID takes the barcoding concept and digitizes it for the modern world providing the ability to:
• Uniquely identify an individual item beyond just its product type
• Identify items without direct line-of-sight
• Identify many items (up to 1,000s) simultaneously
• Identify items within a vicinity of between a few centimeters to several meters
An RFID system has readers and tags that communicate with each other by radio. RFID tags are so small and require so little power that they don’t even need a battery to store information and exchange data with readers. This makes it easy and cheap to apply tags to all kinds of things that people would like to identify or track.
RFID technology has the capability to both greatly enhance and protect the lives of consumers, and also revolutionize the way companies do business. As the most flexible auto-identification technology, RFID can be used to track and monitor the physical world automatically and with accuracy.
RFID can tell you what an object is, where it is, and even its condition, which is why it is integral to the development of the Internet of Things—a globally interconnected web of objects allowing the physical world itself to become an information system, automatically sensing what is happening, sharing related data, and responding.
RFID use is increasing rapidly with the capability to “tag” any item with an inexpensive communications chip and then read that tag with a reader. Endless applications range from supply chain management to asset tracking to authentication of frequently counterfeited pharmaceuticals. Applications are limited, in fact, only by the imagination of the user.
RFID can help:
• Automate inventory and asset-tracking in health-care, manufacturing, retail, and business sectors
• Identify the source of products, enabling intelligent recall of defective or dangerous items, such as tainted foods, defective toys, and expired or compromised medication
• Prevent use of counterfeit products in the supply chain
• Improve shopping experience for consumers, with fewer out-of-stock items and easier returns
• Provide visibility into the supply chain, yielding a more efficient distribution channel and reduced business costs
• Decrease business revenue lost to theft or inaccurate accounting of goods
• Improve civilian security through better cargo monitoring at ports
• Wirelessly lock, unlock and configure electronic devices
• Enable access control of certain areas or devices
Whatever the application, RFID has the potential to increase efficiency of operations, improve asset visibility and traceability, decrease reliance on manual processes, reduce operations costs, and provide useful data for business analytics.