What is it?
Near Field Communication (or NFC) is an evolution of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. At its core, NFC is a standards-based wireless communication technology that allows for data to be transferred over short distances. One of the key differences between RFID and NFC is that RFID has a range of up to 3 meters, whereas NFC’s range is only up to 10 centimeters. This short range, coupled with additional encryption support, makes NFC a preferred choice for a number of applications like commerce, bootstrapping, social networking, gaming, and identity and access control for security. In addition to being used in credit cards, keycards, tags, and POS systems, the technology is also commonly found in smartphones, and makes services like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Android Beam possible.
NFC communication happens between two devices: an NFC device and an NFC tag. An NFC card reader is a type of NFC device that reads information stored on an NFC-enabled card, like ID cards, credit cards, or keycards.
How does it work?
NFC communication is then triggered when two NFC-compatible devices are brought within close proximity. To illustrate in terms of access control and physical security, think of an NFC enabled keycard (which is a tag) and an NFC enabled card reader (which is a device). These can be found at places like your office or at a hotel. The main difference between a device and a tag is that a tag is passive, meaning they don’t have a power source. There are also 4 Types of tags, and each type offers varying degrees of security due to differing memory capacities and transfer speeds. When you bring your NFC near an active NFC device, three things happen:
- The NFC device (the card reader) wirelessly transfers power to the NFC tag (the keycard), and begins to communicate via an RF frequency it creates.
- The NFC device modulates the RF field signal it’s creating to send information to the NFC tag. This process is called signal modulation.
- The NFC tag sends information back to the NFC reader by modulating the load of the RF signal being used to communicate between the two devices. The tag does this through a process called load modulation.
NFC uses a base frequency of 13.56 MHz and transfers speeds at up to 424 Kb/s, so this whole process happens very quickly. This high base frequency and data transfer rate also adds an extra layer of security on NFC-enabled devices. Communication between NFC devices is determined by a number of communication protocols and data exchange formats, such as ISO/IEC 14443 Type A, Type B and FeliCa, GSMA, StoLPaN, and NFC Forum.
To see this technology in action and learn more about access control and physical security, check out the Kisi Reader Pro. It is is a Bluetooth and NFC enabled wall reader that works with both NFC-enabled cards and NFC-enabled mobile devices. You can learn more about its connectivity and security features by reading our guide.