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Near Field Communication

Posted by Flux on 

13 March 2012

What’s trending now?

NFC, or near field communication, is being touted as the next most influential driver in mobile. This short-range communication allows two NFC-enabled mobile devices to pick up data once paired by the simple tapping together of the device and the “smart tag”.

The applications of this technology are phenomenal, a simple technology to install, data such as URLs, coupons and other information can be exchanged within the required proximity.

Although not a new technology, NFC operates along the same principles at Bluetooth, however, the devices can be paired by simply touching them to each other, no more searching, finding, allowing and connecting that marks the pitfall of BlueTooth communication.

Why it’s important? 

Although most media attention in the field of NFC has gone towards mobile payments, with Google Wallet taking centre stage, according to ABI Research it is expected 70% of NFC chip sales will fall outside the field of commerce by 2016. “Interactive ‘smart posters’ and other types of mobile marketing that might involve information pick-ups on product labels or in-store messaging will be worth nearly $300 million in tag sales alone” (Smith 2011). When viewed in relation to a booming mobile market back at home, one can conclude that the world of NFC is just about to hot up significantly.

Currently South Africa sits at the top of the pile when it comes to mobile internet usage in Africa.  According to Quirk digital’s Paul Milewski, the high level of mobile penetration locally owes itself to a lack of fibre optic infrastructure, leaving mobile as the only option for connecting to the web. Speaking at an MTN business breakfast in June last year, retail expert Simon Mathers, maintained that smartphones were “creating more savvy consumers…(who) are using their smartphones to research and even compare items when in store”.

What’s the butterfly effect?

PayPal is reported to be experimenting with NFC in-store, while they work on expanding their offerings, and South African banks are already racing to be first to market with ABSA to have won the first leg, having launched their beta version in 2011. It is predicted that 411.8 million NFC enabled devices will have been shipped by 2014 after Isis (A partnership between AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) climbed into bed with Visa and MasterCard to implement the payment processes behind the technology.

According to Maggie Bidlingmaier, global director of sales and marketing at Avery Dennison, a leading NFC company “NFC is reaching the tipping point…Consumers will quickly demand applications that the technology makes possible”.

NFC has a multitude of applications across the board, from transport, to mobile payment to medical records. This infographic on the Orange blog visualises some of the various applications quite successfully. The reason why NFC would achieve success globally is because of the various industries that this technology can offer value to, beyond commerce and marketing.

MasterCard, have arrived with their most insatiable offering yet: popcorn. QkR, a part of MasterCard Innovation Lab, have piloted a mobile app in 2 upmarket movie theatres in Sydney, Australia. The application allows movie-goers to order their popcorn via their mobile using NFC or QR codes, which is then delivered to their seat. This is one creative way of how NFC can be used to save time and make people’s lives a little easier – it’s easy to see how the customer demand stands to be set in motion.

NFC is set to become the next mobile standard, like cameras built into mobile phones, with all new smart handsets already being equipped with this revolutionary technology.

The pioneers

Although research has been done in the way of exploring the applications of NFC, nothing comes close to theLikeBelt by DeepLocal (via PSFK) in terms of sheer amusement. The NFC enabled phone is strapped into the belt, which when placed in close proximity to the RFID, or radio frequency identification, tag, eliciting a pelvic thrust in the wearer in order to perform the action, which then registers on FaceBook. Just one comical application of a NFC chip being held up to a tag in short proximity. Do yourself a favour and watch the video.

The global hot spots

The technology is being kick-started in the US and Europe, but it won’t be long before it becomes more of a talking point in SA tech circles.

South Africans have been identified by Accenture as some of the most voracious consumers of smartphone technology, spending a larger portion of their annual income on these devices.

If you are still in need of more convincing, research reports are available online that tackle the various issues at work in the international market, identifying the stumbling blocks as well as the opportunities of adopting NFC technology.

You can also follow the NFC Forum, which aims “advance the use of Near Field Communication technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services”, at the same time “educating the market about NFC technology”.

By: Loren Phillips

About Loren

Loren is an avid trendspotter, with a keen interest in how the internet is shaping human behaviour across the board. Her favourite subjects include design, technology and the environment.

Image credit: Park Ji-Hwan/ AFP/ Getty Images

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