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At Many Trade Shows, Use of NFC-enabled Phones Is Touch 'N Go

ITN International's Touch 'N Go solution utilizes NFC-enabled mobile phones, RFID tags in visitor badges and a hosted server to share data between attendees and exhibitors, as well as collect event-traffic information and pay for food.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 06, 2010The availability of mobile phones supporting Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology could change the way conference attendees and exhibitors conduct business, thereby enabling attendees to use NFC applications to share contact details, download product information at booths, send pictures and pay for snacks and meals, all from their cell phone. ITN International, however, is already a part of that future, as a provider of NFC wireless conference-management systems that have been employed at numerous events throughout North America, Europe and Asia since 2005. The solution features NFC-enabled mobile phones that the firm rents to exhibitors, while conference attendees wear NFC-enabled badges (provided by ITN) to share information about themselves with exhibitors, or to initiate other functions.

Attendees can tap their BCard badge against the ITNPod’s embedded NFC-enabled phones, earning the chance to win prizes.
Prior to 1995, ITN International offered a solution involving a smart contact card that needed to be inserted into a reader in order to be interrogated. Exhibitors at booths, as well as event workers managing traffic into and out of the show floors and work session rooms, carried the readers to capture attendees' ID numbers, says Ivan Lazarev, ITN's president. In 2005, the firm expanded its offering with the addition of its contactless Touch 'N Go system, which features attendee ID badges containing NFC tags from NXP Semiconductors' 1-kilobyte Mifare RFID chips, Wireless Dynamics (WDI) 1010 NFC RFID readers plugged into the SD slots of Microsoft Windows-based mobile phones, and the BCard software application. In 2008, the company added Nokia 6212 NFC-enabled handsets, which it rents—along with the NFC-enabled Windows-based mobile phones—to conference organizers and exhibitors, for the purpose of reading badges. The phones do not operate as a voice phone, but a SIM card within each phone allows the transfer of information—for example, transmitting read data from the phone to ITN's back-end server.

Upon arriving at the conference, an attendee first picks up his plastic, credit-card-size BCard ID badge, which is printed and encoded by event employees with data regarding that individual, such as his phone number and e-mail address, the company he represents and the sessions to which he has access, as well as prepayment permission for those using the e-purse function. The badge can also be printed, and its embedded RFID inlay encoded on site, using an Evolis encoder and printer plugged into a computer with a USB connection. When an individual registers prior to attending the event, he receives a confirmation with a bar-coded number that can also be used at a registration station or kiosk provided by ITN. In this case, the bar-coded number could be presented to a bar-code scanner, and the BCard badge would be automatically printed and encoded, and then presented to the attendee.

When an attendee enters the show floor, workers utilize Nokia mobile phones to read the ID number encoded to the RFID tag embedded in that person's BCard badge, which links to data stored in the ITN-hosted server, to assure that person is authorized to access the floor. That information is stored in order to indicate who has entered the floor, and when. The attendee can then present his BCard badge to any booth that he chooses, and the exhibitor at that booth can tap the Nokia phone against the badge to capture all of the data on the badge's tag. The phone then transmits that information to the ITN back-end server, where it can be later accessed by the booth representative. The phone's NFC reader can also encode the badge with such details as whether that individual has picked up a gift package—for example, a promotional gift being offered by an exhibitor to every attendee—thereby ensuring he does not return and pick up another one.

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