NFC Phones Can Read ISO 15693 Tags

Expanded capabilities in the latest NFC phones offer application developers greater flexibility.
Published: February 1, 2011

Is Near Field Communication (NFC) technology poised for a major breakthrough?

I received an e-mail the other day from Juan Carlos Ramirez, of Colombian firm IDlink Solutions, who was excited about a recent document posted on NXP Semiconductors‘ Web site, explaining how an RFID transponder based on the high-frequency (HF) ISO 15693 air-interface protocol, such as those using NXP’s Icode chip, “can now be treated as an NFC tag.” Juan Carlos said he believes that if “NFC phones start coming out massively, HF has a bigger chance to make it as item level in the short term.”

I was unfamiliar with the document, entitled “AN2023: ICODE as NFC Type ICODE Tag.” The report is very technical, so I called NXP to try to better understand the implications of this news. I spoke to Jeff Fonseca, of the company’s director of global marketing and business development for business unit identification.

Fonseca explains that the latest NFC reader-integrated chips from NXP and other companies include the capability of reading ISO 15693 tags, as well as writing to them. He says there is no formal NFC standard at this point, and that it will likely take a year for the NFC Forum to formally adopt such a standard. But in the meantime, NFC readers will be able to interrogate tags based on the ISO 15693 standard, provided that the tags employ the NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF), which sets a common data-exchange format for NFC Forum-compliant devices and tags.

According to Fonseca, the ability to read ISO 15693 tags would provide application developers with greater flexibility. For example, one NFC application that has been tested involves placing tags on movie posters, so that a consumer could read a particular film’s poster with his or her mobile phone and obtain more information about that film, or perhaps download a trailer to the phone. This is an application for which the longer read range of ISO 15693 tags would prove advantageous, and for which the absence of security features would not be a problem. (ISO 14443 tags used for NFC have deliberately been designed to have a shorter read range, in order to prevent the interception of data, and NXP chips support encryption for security purposes.)

Current NFC reader chips lack the ability to emulate ISO 15693 tags, as they can with ISO 14443 tags (essentially, the NFC reader acts like a tag and transmits data to another reader). But Fonseca says that could be a part of future releases, adding that end users do not really need to know about the changes in the technical specs for NFC tags and interrogators.

“The approach we are taking is that the end user doesn’t need to be aware of these changes,” Fonseca states. “The smart-poster provider will decide what works best from a technical standpoint and package it up, so the technology is transparent to end users. For us, it’s about having solutions that are easy to deploy, so the market for NFC develops more rapidly.”

The addition of ISO 15693 capabilities is interesting and enhances the value and ease of deploying NFC applications, but this change probably is not transformational. I do, however, get the sense that the increased capabilities of NFC—and the technology’s use in a growing number of Android phones and, possibly, iPhones—could lead to the development of consumer applications that will drive widespread adoption.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.