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NFC—Not Just for Consumers Anymore

Companies are deploying Near-Field Communication technology in business applications once seen as the province of UHF RFID.
By Mark Roberti
Aug 16, 2013

According to conventional wisdom, passive ultrahigh-frequency radio frequency identification, with its long read range, is the go-to technology for business applications. And Near Field Communication, a short-range form of high-frequency RFID designed for device-to-device communication, is strictly for payment and other consumer applications. Indeed, more than 100 mobile phone models now come with integrated NFC readers.

But as is often the case with RFID, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Even as NFC carves its place as a payment solution and social-media tool (neither has neared the tipping point), it's beginning to make inroads in business applications. It won't challenge passive UHF technology as the predominant form of RFID used in the supply chain, manufacturing and retail stores for tracking and managing goods. But it offers some advantages that make it the best option for certain business applications.

NFC's short read range—just a few inches—reduces the possibility of someone eavesdropping on the communication between a mobile phone and payment terminal in a store and stealing valuable transactional data. Another advantage of NFC is its high level of security. NFC Type 4 tags have built-in encryption, as well as password-protected memory.

When French wine maker Chateau Le Pin was considering technologies to help it reduce counterfeiting of its wines, which average $3,000 a bottle and can fetch as much as $10,000, it turned to anticounterfeiting identification technology company Selinko. The Belgian firm offers an NFC solution consisting of a 13.56 MHz NFC-compliant RFID tag built into a wine bottle's label, an application for an NFC-enabled phone to capture that label's ID number, and a server to manage the collected data. Each NFC tag contains an encrypted, tamperproof digital certificate stored in the chip, and the communication between the tag and a reader is encrypted. This would make it very difficult for counterfeiters to copy the NFC tags (see Chateau Le Pin Uses NFC to Ensure Its Wine's Authenticity).

Le Pin could have chosen a UHF-based anticounterfeiting solution, but then the company, as well as the distributors and auctioneers that sell its wines, would have had to purchase UHF handheld readers or install fixed readers. Either option would have been expensive. With this solution, any NFC-enabled Android phone can be used to read the tags on the wine bottles and check their authenticity. In addition, Le Pin's customers can use the application to make sure they are not investing in a bogus bottle.

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