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A brief history of NFC

Franz Amtmann and Philippe Maugars, the inventors of Near Field Communication

NXP engineers Franz Amtmann and Philippe Maugars talk about how the invention of Near Field Communication (NFC) came about, their reaction to how it has developed in the past decade, and their expectations for NFC in the future.

Philippe Maugars: When we invented NFC in 2002, our main aim was to upgrade the technology that we were already working on so that it could be integrated into mobile devices. We knew this would tap into the user convenience that drives successful technology, but even we are surprised by how far NFC has come from its humble beginnings in our lab.

Like every invention, we did face challenges. There were plenty of difficulties to overcome, from reducing power consumption to combining the secure elements of the phone and the NFC technology. When we looked to integrate the technology we encountered further issues, mainly focused around price and infrastructure.

Since it was a brand new technology, there was no supporting infrastructure like NFC readers for ticketing and payments so consumers couldn’t actually use NFC. That meant manufacturers weren’t willing to pay to integrate the technology into products like bank cards and so on. It was a classic chicken or egg scenario.

We understood early that we would need to do something to ease the integration if NFC was going to take off. NXP therefore founded the NFC Forum, a non-profit group with the aim of setting standards and growing the NFC ecosystem. Over time, this helped to build the infrastructure needed to drive the mass adoption of NFC we have seen to date.

Even though I believed in the potential of NFC, I must admit that I’m a bit surprised by just how far it’s come. For me, the use of NFC to support distributed intelligent systems like in connected cars and smart homes is particularly exciting.My wife can actually let me know when dinner is ready through the NFC applications in our home!

But NFC is not just about bells and whistles. It also provides new business opportunities. Smart tagging for example allows brands and retailers to authenticate items along the supply chain, as well as providing additional information about products in store, and offering post-purchase interactions for loyalty programmes and personalised marketing. The unique de facto security of NFC also makes it a smart choice to underpin some critical processes like passport control.

NFC is foraging into all areas of day to day life, and I’m so proud to have been involved in inventing a technology with so many opportunities to drive consumer convenience and business value.

Franz Amtmann: NFC is based on a pre-cursor communicative technology called MIFARE which was launched in 1994. We wanted to take this to the next step, looking to define a device which can combine card functionality with reader functionality, and be highly integrated with low power.

With NFC, we managed to combine all of these factors to develop a technology that was inherently secure and also extremely easy to design solutions for – even in extreme low cost platforms like Raspberry PI. These factors were important to help us drive the supporting infrastructure, and also gain traction in industries that have spurred widespread adoption of NFC.

The ‘physics’ of NFC means devices have to be within a few centimetres of an NFC reader for information to be transmitted. This makes middle man attacks nearly impossible. The easy integration into systems using secure elements where information such as bank details is stored offers increased security.

This security is a big part of NFC enabling a new generation of ‘tap and pay’ transactions with almost immediate processing. It’s a convenience revolution for millions of consumers around the world and just one example of the technology starting to completely change processes in our daily lives.

NFC has only recently come into the hands of consumers as more companies awaken to its uses and drive the technology forward. In the years to come, we expect NFC to extend into industry too as it presents great opportunities to streamline processes. Using smart factories as an example, NFC allows machines to communicate with each other ensuring that they can adapt to changes and customisations during the manufacturing process.

The possibilities for NFC really are endless – and that’s what excites me.

Since its invention in 2002, NFC has become a vital underpinning element of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). NFC has become so pervasive that its inventors, Franz and Philippe, were recently honoured with a prestigious EPO European Inventor Award – which both have called the pinnacle of their careers so far.

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Franz Amtmann and Philippe Maugars

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