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Think NFC is Just Ticketing and Payments? Think Again.

The NFC Forum held a webinar that described how near field communication (NFC) technology could be used outside of its core ticketing and contactless payment markets. NFC-enabled cell phones and other devices could be used to securely store and exchange records, provide access control to facilities, create smart appliances and more.
Nov 20, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 20, 2008—Near field communication (NFC) is a viable enabling technology for activities ranging from securely exchanging medical records to popping perfect popcorn, attendees were told this week at a webinar presented by the NFC Forum, an industry association that promotes NFC standards and adoption. (A free replay is available here.)

NFC is a wireless communication technology with only a few inches of range. It is most commonly used for contactless fare collection in public transportation systems, and increasingly for contactless payment at stores and restaurants. Users typically pay for fares and purchases with NFC-enabled cell phones. Adoption has been strongest in Japan, and relatively few North American consumers have access to NFC applications or technology.

Approximately 500,000 NFC-enabled payment terminals and millions more fare collection boxes have been installed worldwide, according to webinar leader Hans Reisgies, who is NFC Forum's North American events chairperson and is also an executive with NFC terminal maker ViVOtech.

"NFC can be used in an extremely wide variety of ways," Reisgies told attendees. "NFC is not just about mobile phones. Can you imagine what you could do with an NFC microwave?"

Reisgies then described a potential use case where an NFC RFID tag is embedded in microwave popcorn packaging. When the popcorn bag is placed in the microwave, an NFC-enabled reader would access the cooking instructions and automatically apply the correct time and temperature settings. "Voila! Perfect popcorn," said Reisgies.

He then offered application example ideas for a variety of industries:
  • Retail — Gift "cards" could be purchased by mobile phone, downloaded directly to the phone, and given as gifts by interfacing with another NFC-enabled phone. NFC tags could supplement shelf labels by providing more information than label space typically allows.
  • Facilities management — An NFC phone could provide access to the parking lot (and pay for parking if required), and serve as an electronic key to allow access to a building or restricted areas within it. Security guards could use NFC devices to touch tags placed at checkpoints to verify that rounds were completed.
  • Healthcare — NFC chips could securely store medical records; doing so on a cell phone increases the likelihood that a patient would have necessary records on hand when visiting an emergency room or other healthcare facility. Doctors and nurses could use NFC-enabled PDAs or phones to authenticate pharmaceuticals tagged with NFC chips.
  • Automotive — Information from in-vehicle sensors could be uploaded to an NFC device so a consumer or mechanic could review diagnostic information.
  • Entertainment — Consumers could access "smart posters" with embedded chips to get movie times or other information about the event or product being promoted. Tickets could be delivered automatically to phones.
"We really don't know what provides the best NFC use case," Reisgies said in response to a question. "My personal opinion is that payment and transit already have a strong NFC infrastructure, so they are ideally suited to take advantage of what NFC has to offer."

An estimated one in five cell phones will be NFC enabled by 2013 (see NFC RFID to Power $75+ Billion in Transactions in 2013). Mobile payment is one of the fastest-growing segments of the NFC industry, and earlier this year another industry group formed to facilitate NFC commerce (see Industry Group Turns Attention to NFC & Mobile Payments).
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