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NFC Companies Prepare for Windows 8

New Near Field Communication RFID functionality in Microsoft's next operating system provides the opportunity for hardware and software firms to innovate.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 19, 2011Near Field Communication (NFC) technology vendors are already aligning themselves to provide solutions that could be used with Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system (OS), which will include built-in NFC functionality, according to Microsoft's product presentation and demonstration offered at the company's Build developer conference, held on Sept. 13-16, 2011. Although Microsoft has yet to set a date for the product's release, the company reports that the new system will include an NFC function known as "tap to share," enabling Windows 8 PCs, laptops or tablets to support NFC RFID readers. In that way, the firm indicates, the computing world will join a limited number of mobile phones that are NFC-compatible, acting as 13.56 MHz passive NFC readers and writers that can interrogate tags and capture as well as send data wirelessly when within range of those tags. Last week, Microsoft also released a Developer Preview build of Windows 8, known as Build 8102, for software and hardware developers to download and begin working with.

The tap-to-share application includes software and driver files to enable the use of a plugged- or built-in NFC reader in order to receive or transmit information to or from another device, such as an NFC tag, an NFC-enabled phone or another NFC-enabled computer running Windows 8. With Windows 7, on the other hand, a user can connect an NFC reader to a computer or laptop, but additional software and a driver, supplied by the reader manufacturer or a third party, are necessary to capture and interpret data transmitted to that reader.

During its Build conference, Microsoft demonstrated the tap-to-share application by means of an NFC-enabled tablet computer loaded with an early version of Windows 8. In response to Microsoft's new OS plans, chip manufacturer NXP Semiconductors has announced that its PN544 NFC radio controller is compatible with the new operating system. In fact, NXP provided the NFC technology used on Windows 8-based tablets distributed at the conference, enabling the computers to not only read and encode NFC RFID tags, but also support peer-to-peer and card-emulation functions specified by NFC standards developed by the NFC Forum.

Last week, RFID tag and inlay manufacturer UPM RFID announced that it has teamed with NFC solutions provider Wireless Sensor Technologies (WST) to provide NFC tags. With this partnership, UPM RFID is providing WST with its NFC tags and inlays that will now be added to WST's NFC readers, software development kits and customization services, including printing and encoding. Although the partnership is not a direct response to the Windows 8 NFC plans, WST notes, it will make it easier for the firm to respond quickly to customers seeking technology solutions built for Windows 8 devices. Wireless Sensor Technologies already provides an NFC app known as GoToTags for computers running Windows 7, enabling users to communicate with an NFC reader plugged into their computer, and to use it to read and encode NFC tags.

In addition, UPM has released a new portfolio of NFC tags—UPM BullsEye, UPM Circus and UPM MiniTrack—using NXP NTAG203 chips. German company Identive Group is also releasing its new Smartag, based on the same NXP chip.

Semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics indicates that it, too, is an early supporter of Windows 8, by offering its ST21NFCA NFC chip that supports several different NFC communications modes, thereby enabling a device operating Windows 8 to act as a reader or writer, as well as carry out peer-to-peer and card-emulation functions. ST began working with Microsoft earlier this year, according to Lauren Degauque, a representative of STMicroelectronics' Secure Microcontroller Division, to develop the chip to provide reader functionality for the Windows 8 OS. "As an early supporter of Windows 8," he says, "we have a unique opportunity to enable plug-and-play NFC features on upcoming Windows 8-based tablets and PCs."

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