This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

A Crash Course in Near-Field Communication

Business Agility blogger Theresa Billy educates us on the present and the potential of NFC technology.

Participants in this community's weekly realtime chat were treated to an education on the subject of NFC, delivered by new Business Agility blogger Theresa Billy.

Ms. Billy is an emerging media and NFC delivery consultant with Near Field Connects, a founding member of thinaire, and a thought leader in the RFID/NFC space. She has worked across various industry verticals and is currently focused on working with emerging and mobile technology and first movers in the NFC industry, especially in regard to cross ecosystem distribution and deployment.

Most of us have heard about NFC, if we have heard of it at all, in the context of mobile payment systems such as Google Wallet. Some early Android phones featured an NFC chip. As we learned from Ms. Billy, NFC has potentially far more uses than just mobile payments, and a number of these applications are up and running in the US. In other countries, NFC adoption is more advanced, particularly in France, Spain, Japan, and Australia (see this summary in Wikipedia of deployments worldwide).

In this week's chat, we learned that NFC is a two-way radio communication system that operates in the 13-MHz range and passes data at rates from 100 to 400 kbit/s across an air gap of a few centimeters. NFC can also operate in a one-way mode with a passive, unpowered "tag" on one end of the communication; in this mode it is compatible with the earlier and more widely deployed RFID standard.

"NFC isn't complex," Ms. Billy explained in the chat. "It is either a reader, or a pointer to a URL, or a wireless system. When you tap you can go to a link, an app, whatever." An NFC connection can also be used automatically to set up a more robust communication channel such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. More complex interactions, initiated by the proximity of the two NFC devices, can be mediated by back-end systems in cooperation with mobile applications.

Here are a few of the US-based deployments of NFC technology that Ms. Billy introduced:

We discussed the complex and fast-moving area of mobile payments via NFC. "There will be numerous other mobile wallet and payment systems to come," Ms. Billy explained, "and this is another area where we will see changes -- e-commerce, m-commerce, v-commerce, social currency, digital currency, loyalty points and rewards... what is money and who will be the bank."

Around 3 million NFC-enabled phones exist in the US at present, from Samsung, HTC, Nokia, RIM, and others. There will be many more in the coming years. Again, other countries lead the US, Ms. Billy said; for example, "Korea has declared all phones going forward must have NFC. and Brazil has mandated NFC from the country perspective across transportation."

We touched on many more topics, including geo-fencing and Apple's possible plans for NFC; you can read the chat archive here.

Please join us for the weekly chat on Thursdays at 10:00 am California time, 1:00 pm Eastern. It's always lively. You can find the chat by clicking Message Boards at the top of any Business Agility page, and then selecting Reader Boards.