Personal Small Business Enterprise

Near-Field Communication: Your Business and You

If you have to remember three letters, remember these: NFC. They stand for near-field communications, and they represent one of the key technologies that will enable secure, tap-to-pay or contactless transactions in today’s increasingly mobile-driven economy. If your business relies on any form of financial or information exchange among mobile devices, you’ll want to learn more.

What is NFC?
NFC is a highly secure, short-distance wireless data transmission technology. It’s actually been around for almost a decade – the NFC Forum which established NFC-specific standards was founded in 2004 and currently has about 160 member companies worldwide – but is only now beginning to gain traction as more mobile devices incorporate NFC chips and app developers figure out how to take advantage of the hardware.

If NFC sounds familiar, it should: it’s based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that’s used for inventory management in warehouses and retail stores, as well as credit and debit cards. While basic RFID is essentially a one-way technology, NFC is a bit more sophisticated. It adds a layer of computing smarts on top of basic RFID, and allows two-way authentication for applications that require additional security, as well as on-device data storage for such things as customer information or loyalty programs.

How can you leverage Near-Field communications (NFC) technology?
There’s a good chance you’ve already benefitted from NFC. Keychain tap-to-pay dongles, popular with gas stations, typically use embedded NFC chips. So do smart cards used for grocery store purchases, transit system fare payment and even hotel room access. NFC tags are increasingly being embedded in business cards and point-of-sale marketing materials to facilitate instant data transfer. Some smartphones use NFC chips to “bump” contact information directly to another phone.

Google has included NFC support in all versions of Android since version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and has steadily updated the technology with each subsequent release. Most Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Google Nexus 5, as well as a good number of Android tablets, now incorporate NFC chips. The latest version of Android, KitKat, or version 4.4, lets any NFC-equipped phone use the Google Wallet app to function like a tap-to-pay smart card. The updated operating system benefits merchants, as well, as it supports a Reader Mode that allows in-store devices to read compatible smart cards.

Bell customers who have NFC-capable smartphones can use the Mobile Payments service to buy pretty much anything using both credit and debit-based payments.

The bottom line
NFC holds huge promise as a key enabler of increasingly diverse and powerful mobile payment solutions. If your business is looking to differentiate itself from the competition, supporting easy, smartphone-based mobile wallet payments could be a key advantage. Open standards and widening support make it almost a no-brainer to at least consider NFC for your own business. Before long, NFC will be as universal as plastic is today.

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