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NFC Forum Incorporates Tags into Its Certification Program

The release of Apple's NFC-enabled iOS 11 platform is helping to drive the growth of NFC deployments that are making an NFC tag certification program important, the association says.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 22, 2017

This week, Near Field Communication (NFC) tag manufacturers have begun taking part in a new certification program provided worldwide by the NFC Forum, to ensure that their NFC chips and inlays conform with specifications—and, if they so choose, to test and certify their performance with mobile handsets and readers. The certification program for tags was added this past Wednesday to the NFC Forum's existing certification program, and is already under way for manufacturers at its 23 worldwide authorized laboratories.

The NFC Forum is an industry standards organization that promotes the standardization and use of NFC technology. Its 23 labs are located around the world in areas where NFC devices are most commonly manufactured and distributed; 16 are located in Asia, five are in Europe and two are in North America.

The NFC Forum's Paula Hunter
The tag certification program comes on the heels of the release of iOS 11 from Apple, which, for the first time, includes Core NFC—open NFC functionality that developers are now using to create NFC-based solutions. The program was developed by the NFC Forum's Internet of Things (IoT) Workgroup, chaired by Apple. (Apple has not responded to a request for comment.)

The NFC Forum already offered its certification program for more than three years to enable manufacturers of NFC-based products to test the conformance and performance of their devices—readers and mobile devices with built-in 13.56 MHz NFC reading functionality compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. About a year ago, the IoT Workgroup began planning for the inclusion of tags in its certification program, according to Paula Hunter, the NFC Forum's executive director. The workgroup, she says, saw the growing number of NFC applications for connecting items onto IoT-based networks with the use of NFC tags.

That growth in applications is expected to accelerate with the release of NFC in iPhones and other iOS devices. "Adding Apple devices to the mix," Hunter states, "makes it much more desirable for tag-based applications."

Tag manufacturers will release more tags for a wider variety of applications, Hunter predicts. Ensuring that the tags perform according to end users' needs, he adds, will thus become more challenging. Major NFC tag manufacturers have indicated to the NFC Forum that they had a need for such certification for their new products. The certification program provides a template for authorized labs to test a manufacturer's tags to ensure that each meets the specifications for its particular tag type. There are five different tag types as defined by NFC Forum specifications.

Once testing is complete, the results are shared with the manufacturer and with the NFC Forum, which then reviews those results and posts the certification status of tag products that have completed the process on their website. Manufacturers can also opt for performance testing, which is a more rigorous set of tests designed to ensure that a tag performs as required under specific conditions. While some low-cost tags have very straightforward applications that might not require a distinct level of performance, others might. Increasingly, a variety of companies are employing NFC technology for applications that might require high levels of read accuracy within very specific ranges.

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