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London Startup Seeks to Tap Into NFC Growth

With a product lineup that includes RFID tags built into beer mats, pens, business cards and refrigerator magnets, RapidNFC hopes to facilitate creative NFC-based solutions designed for mobile phones.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Retail
Jan 28, 2013The goal of delivering Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID readers into the hands of nearly every individual (provided he or she owns an NFC-enabled smartphone) is prompting a wide variety of creative ideas among businesses. Solutions that provide information to people in parks, bars, conference or meeting rooms, and bus stops are just one application. Some companies currently provide access control using pens containing NFC RFID tags, enabling Wi-Fi access via NFC-tagged beer mats, and also install smart posters in stairwells in order to motivate employees to use stairs instead of elevators.

One distributor that is meeting this market's demands is RapidNFC, which sells tags and products containing NFC RFID inlays, as well as starter packs—comprising an assortment of RFID-enabled stickers, hangtags, wristbands and key fobs—to firms wishing to try the technology for their own use case. Over the course of the past year, the London-based startup has evolved from selling a few dozen samples each month to hundreds of thousands of tags during the same time period. That growth, says Phil Coote, the company's CEO, points to the expected abundance of NFC technology in mobile phones throughout the United Kingdom and worldwide. Initial sales were made to "techies" interested in testing the technology for the first time, but the customer base quickly transformed to marketing firms, as well as other large entities.

RapidNFC products include RFID-tagged pens, wristbands, hangtags, key fobs, beer mats and adhesive stickers.

During the 12-month period in which it has been operating, Coote believes the company—his fourth—has become one of the highest-volume NFC tag providers in the United Kingdom. He has a background in business startups, in the area of online advertising and Web-hosting. Prior to launching RapidNFC, he says, he felt that "NFC seemed extremely exciting." Most of the excitement, he adds, has been elicited by marketing firms. Typically, such firms approach his company with questions and a general concept, indicating a desire to incorporate NFC technology into a product or a location, and to enable consumers to access data or proceed directly to a Web site to be connected with promotional materials via their mobile phones.

Not all of RapidNFC's customers, however, are marketers. For example, South Downs Way National Trail, in southern England, has attached NFC tags to signposts in order to provide hikers with access to links to YouTube videos, pictures, audio commentary and information regarding the area's history and wildlife. Each tag has a printed QR code and an embedded NFC chip. Those carrying an NFC-enabled phone can tap it against the tag and be linked directly to a URL that provides the appropriate data options for that location. By using the tags, the park is able to provide data to hikers without having to install large signage or display panels.

Other NFC solution providers using RapidNFC's products include pub or bar owners who supply the tags to patrons, enabling them to easily log onto an establishment's Wi-Fi network. Downloading an app, and then tapping the phone against the tag, causes the NFC reader in the user's phone to capture the ID number, thereby changing the phone's settings. "We have a lot of customers doing this," Coote states. In one common scenario, a user might have an NFC tag attached to his or her desk. Upon arriving at the office, the worker would tap the tag to put the phone on silent mode, turn Wi-Fi on or off, or deactivate the Bluetooth connection. Applications allow a user to tap his or her NFC tag in order to connect to Wi-Fi.

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