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How NFC works and the uses of NFC

how nfc work

Most of us are used to using smartphones as bank cards, but few know what the technology behind contactless payments. Tech RFID presents a detailed guide to NFC

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless communication technology. It can be used to exchange data between devices at a distance of about 10 cm. NFC is a radio-frequency communication at 13.56 MHz, so it does not require the Internet to work. Unlike Bluetooth, NFC does not require manual pairing or discovery of devices to transmit data. The connection automatically starts when another NFC device enters a previously specified range.

NFC supports three modes of operation: read and write, peer-to-peer communication, and card emulation. In the first mode, the devices work like smart cards, for example, when making a payment. In the second (Peer-to-peer) mode, two NFC-enabled devices communicate with each other to exchange information and files. For example, in peer-to-peer mode, users can exchange Bluetooth connection settings, Wi-Fi settings, or photos. In the third mode, the devices read information in NFC tags or tags embedded in smart posters and displays or write information on them. This mode allows you to read transport schedules, tourist tags and routes.

NFC devices consist of a reader and an antenna, or a tag and an antenna. The reader generates a radio-frequency field which can communicate with the tag or with another reader, it operates in active communication mode. This type of communication is used in peer-to-peer mode. The tag is an NFC device which operates in passive communication mode. This means that the device with the tag uses the field that the initiator device has generated. This type of communication is used in all modes of NFC operation.

What is NFC used for?

The technology is not only used for contactless payments and reading tags, NFC is also used in smart home devices, cars, and even as keys.

For payment

NFC chips are used in plastic cards for contactless payments, as well as rings or bracelets with embedded chips. Usually, the bank’s payment application is embedded in the chip and interacts with the seller during the transaction through the payment system, as well as the customer’s personal payment data. They are stored in encrypted form. The NFC module in the card provides a contactless connection to the card reader.

When the card is simulated on a smartphone, the data is stored in a TSM (Trusted Service Manager) with an integrated service provider and secure component chip. It is a hardware-software complex that provides secure boot and secure management using wireless cellular technology (wireless, OTA.) TSM allows you to install and configure applications in the secure element of the phone and then maintain them.

For identification

NFC is used for access control or authentication. In addition to the usual access control, the technology allows to pay for services and accommodations, create passes, verify identity or grant other permissions. The simplest example of using NFC is an intercom where a tag with a key is sewn into a key chain and a tag reader is installed in a device on the door.

Hotels also use NFC to control customer flow and privilege-based access. Guests at these locations do not need a physical key as they can use their smartphones only to enter their rooms or access other areas. Their credentials are generated in real time and all transactions are processed on the smartphone to avoid information leakage or theft.


The company offers users the ability to store their bonus and gift cards and membership cards in an “eWallet” application so they don’t have to carry them around. With Google Pay, loyalty cards are integrated directly into the payment app, allowing you to pay for purchases contactlessly using NFC. Some stores also allow you to link coupons in their own apps. At the same time, the card data is stored in the smartphone’s secure element (Secure Element or SE) to prevent it from being erased.

For transportation

NFC-based contactless transit cards are used for transportation, as well as elevator systems and elevators in ski resorts. You can usually recharge the card at a transit ticket booth or online. It can also be integrated with Apple Pay and Google Pay.

For car protection

The app on NFC-enabled devices lets you use your smartphone as a car key. Bring it to the driver’s door handle to lock and unlock the doors. In the cabin, the smartphone is placed in a special place on the dashboard, which is also a wireless charging pad that allows you to turn the ignition on and off.

In 2020, the Car Connectivity Consortium, which brings together automotive and mobile device manufacturers, released the Digital Key Release 2.0 specification. It includes support for vehicle locking and unlocking, engine start, user authentication, digital key revocation for other users, digital key exchange and key restriction. The latter is stored in the SE of the smartphone. NFC sensors in the car are mounted on the driver’s door handle and front panel.

Apple introduced its NFC car key. car Key can be linked to the Wallet app, which allows you to unlock and start your car using your iPhone or Apple Watch, and can also be shared with others.

For medicinal

NFC can provide secure access to medical information. The technology is used to control access to computers, tablets and other devices.

Medical bracelets with NFC allow you to track a patient’s movements. Staff can know in real time where the patient is, when the nurse last visited him or what treatment plan the doctor has prescribed. The bracelet can be connected to a smartphone or tablet to transmit data to the treating physician. Smart NFC wristbands also help track patients with life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, asthma or allergies. In emergency situations, the bracelet provides detailed information to emergency physicians. healthID Profile has released a similar device.

Finally, add an NFC tag to a drug’s packaging or label to verify its authenticity, view detailed dosing information or learn about side effects. The tag can also contain a web link to the manufacturer’s website.

For games

In the gaming industry, the technology is used in the form of tags that record data to be imported into game applications in the form of heroes or playgrounds. activision released the game Skylanders: Spyros Adventure, in which characters are associated with real physical figurines equipped with NFC tags. Figurines must be purchased and placed on special portals in order for the hero to appear in the game. Nintendo has also implemented this strategy in Amiibo games.

Iot(Internet of things)

IoT systems use devices and sensors with different interfaces and connectivity mechanisms. By integrating the NFC interface into an IoT gateway or microcomputer that acts as an aggregator for all devices, you can connect them seamlessly. At the same time, an NFC-enabled smartphone registered in the gateway can be used to send commands to the device and change its settings. In addition, the technology even lets you control devices that don’t have an interface – light bulbs, security sensors, or sockets.

NFC can also act as a tag. They operate without power and are small enough to fit into posters, tickets, business cards, stickers, bracelets, key chains, pens, tags, and more.

The microchip in the tag can store small pieces of data that can be read by an NFC-enabled device. nfc tags can store URLs, contact information, and even commands and settings that the device will execute when contacted. To read or write data to an NFC tag, you will need a special application, such as NFC Tools.

NFC is not only on the phone

NFC World maintains a list of smartphones with technical support. According to him, all iPhones since the iPhone 6 support it. The latest iPhone 12 also supports NFC tags through the Launch Center Pro app.

NFC has also been added to the iPad lineup, starting with the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 and third-generation iPad Mini.

Every device running Android 4.0 or later supports NFC. for example, Samsung has separately released its list of NFC-enabled smartphones and technical specifications.

NFC functionality is also built into smartbands, such as the Xiaomi Band series. Smartwatches with NFC work just like smartphones with the same chip. Usually they have limited functionality and are only used to pay for purchases and services.

In addition, there are NFC rings for payment of purchases. The ring can be used to pay for public transportation as well as for ID cards. To use the ring, you need to install the application provided by its developer on your smartphone.

How to determine if your phone has NFC

For Android smartphones, you need to go to Settings and enter “NFC” in the “Search” line, then connect the option. In Quick Settings, the N-shaped icon is usually located next to the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth icons. In addition, some companies place the NFC symbol on the smartphone battery. Finally, you can install a free NFC-enabled app from the Google Play app store. It scans the device and if the chip is integrated into the smartphone, the message “NFC Yes: Supported” will appear on the screen. If the chip is not provided, the program will display the message “NFC is: unsupported”.

On iOS devices, you don’t need to do any configuration – just bring the phone to another device. However, you will need to set up billing for various services using your Apple ID signed into iCloud. iPhone 6 and 7 models support NFC payments for up to 8 cards, while newer models can activate up to 12 accounts on a single device for payments.

How to use NFC on Android

The most popular NFC feature is still contactless payments. On your Android smartphone, you can use Google Pay or Samsung Pay to pay for goods and services.

Google pay

Google Pay (formerly known as Android Pay) lets you make purchases and transfer money. You can also use loyalty cards, gift cards and travel cards in the app. You will need a Google account to use it.

First, you will need to set up Google Pay. after downloading from Google Play, you will need to select your country of residence, your Google account and enter your phone number. Then, you need to enter the code in the message to authenticate. Adding a debit or credit card is done from the Insights tab in the bottom right corner of the screen.

To add a membership card, gift card, or transit card, you need to tap the credit card icon in the upper right corner of the app’s home screen.

You can link your bank account to Google Pay to replenish your balance. To do this, go to the Insights tab, select “Google Pay Balance” and “Top up”, then enter the desired amount and click “Add Bank Account”.

To pay for your purchase, you need to ensure that NFC is turned on and then hold the back of your device close to the payment terminal for a few seconds. After the payment is completed, a blue check mark will appear on the screen.

Samsung Pay

Unlike Apple Pay and Google Pay, Samsung Pay uses MST or Secure Magnetic Transmission in addition to NFC technology and can be used almost anywhere – even on older terminals that have not been updated to on older terminals that have not been updated to support contactless payments. However, in 2021, support for this feature begins to be phased out, starting with Galaxy S21 phones. Samsung Pay is available in 29 countries, including Russia. It is also available for the Galaxy Watch, Galaxy Watch Active, Gear and Gear Sport smartwatch series.

To set up the service, you need to launch the app, log in to your Samsung account, and then register a PIN or scan your fingerprint. You can add credit and debit cards from Mastercard, Visa and MIR payment systems to Samsung Pay, as well as make money transfers. In addition, up to 100 membership cards can be uploaded to the service.

To make a payment, you need to select a card on the main screen of the application, then place your finger on the fingerprint scanner or enter the PIN code. After that, you can connect the back of your phone to the payment terminal. A pop-up notification of the transaction will appear at the top of the screen.

How to use NFC on iPhone

As mentioned earlier, the NFC feature in iPhone is turned on and off by the app that needs it. To link your card to Apple Pay, you’ll need to go to the Wallet app, tap “+” and follow the instructions. As of 2021, Russian users will be able to link their Mir cards in addition to Visa and Mastercard.

To pay, you need to place your finger on Touch ID or authenticate via Face ID and bring the top of your iPhone to the contactless card reader. The smartphone itself will activate NFC.

While the original iPhone 6s with NFC only allowed payments via Apple Pay, iPhone 7 and newer models use technology to read NFC tags through third-party apps. In addition, starting with iOS 13 and the release of the iPhone XS and XR, they can also encode blank tags using third-party apps like GoToTags. Finally, from iPhone XS to iPhone 12, smartphones are able to read tags in the background. So users no longer need to install third-party apps: Simply touch the iPhone to the NFC tag and it will read it automatically. The system automatically searches for the tag near the screen each time it is turned on. Once a tag is found and matched, it displays a notification that the user can submit the data to the app for processing. However, background reading is disabled when using Wallet or Apple Pay, the camera, when the device is in airplane mode, or when it is locked after a reboot.

To enable additional NFC features on iPhone, you need to launch the Command app, open the Automation tab, tap + in the upper right corner, find NFC, and select the NFC tab. You will then need to turn on your Bluetooth headset or other wireless device, connect them to your iPhone, bring the device with the tag to the back of your smartphone and wait a few seconds. Once connected, you need to open the “Script” menu, select “Set Play Location” and specify your iPhone; then select the connected device from the list and uncheck the “Ask when executing “box. This process must be repeated for each device.

How secure is NFC technology?

In the early 2000s, NFC modules were considered invulnerable to hackers. However, programmers later described a number of theoretical attacks that could be used to steal information and infect smartphones with viruses. 2012 saw the discovery of the first critical NFC vulnerability. At that time, MWR Labs demonstrated the process of spreading a virus, infecting a device and taking full control of a smartphone in just five minutes. To do this, the device was simply placed on a tag containing malicious code.

To date, NFC signals are encrypted using encryption algorithms, while new encryption protocols are being developed. In addition, in mobile applications of banks, payments usually require additional confirmation by PIN, fingerprint or iris picture.

However, experts recommend following the following rules.

  • Make contactless payments in verified places: gas stations, supermarkets, cafes and shopping centers.
  • Keep your smartphone away from NFC tags in public places, including advertising.
  • When using NFC-enabled kiosks, check for stickers or other foreign objects.
  • Do not share your smartphone with others or place it near other devices in public places.
  • Scan your smartphone for viruses and update the payment application.
  • Turn off the NFC function when you don’t need it.
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