Friday, 8 April 2011

NFC at your convenience

Mobile support for NFC (Near Field Communication) technologies has been gathering unavoidable momentum during this first quarter of 2011.  Device manufacturers and OS providers have been pinning their proximity-based technology colours to the mast with promises of integration in new devices and within new technical systems, for both consumer and enterprise markets. 

Nokia will produce several NFC-enabled devices in 2011, including Windows Phone 7, Google is conducting tests with its Android Operating System and high profile retailers in the US and Motorola will launch an NFC version of the MC75a later this year.  Now Samsung has shown its hand too. 

Visa is developing an application enabling NFC mobile payments on the official Samsung 2012 device, to be revealed this year.  The partnership of the official Games’ sponsors will facilitate payment experiences in London experiences for items up to £15 in value, enabling faster and more convenient transactions.  There are already over 60,000 locations where contactless payments are accepted in London, and this is expected to substantially rise by the opening of the Games.

By the 2012 Games the consumer appetite for NFC solutions promises to be larger than ever.  Juniper Research has forecast that one in every 6 mobile subscribers will have an NFC enabled device by 2014.

However, economies of scale will drive adoption and mass consumer penetration of NFC devices and solutions will not achieve widespread ubiquity in developed markets for several years yet.   

But it is a technology that businesses in the enterprise space can and should be preparing for today.  It’s even a technology which businesses can and are reaping the rewards from today.

It’s often the case that effective mobile enterprise is learned from experience in the consumer space.  With proximity-based technologies like NFC however, it could be that the consumer market can learn from ground already made in the enterprise space. 

RFID solutions, an NFC relative which works in a technically different way, have been in place for some time in the enterprise.  These are often used for tracking and asset management by logistics organisations.  But the NFC opportunity is potentially broader. 

Using tags and short-range radio devices works effectively when it’s critical to prove correct action has been taken, for example by maintenance staff working on hazardous electrified rail lines.  Labels or barcodes can be tricky to attach and are difficult to use, but engineers using handheld devices with snap-on NFC readers and suitable software makes for an elegant solution.

NFC is ultra-low cost RFID which stands to provide numerous innovative uses for a range of different businesses.
-          Ticketing and Transportation (micro-payments)
-          Barcode enhancement
-          Active tags which store and communicate information (vehicle damage records)
-          Safety systems
-          Asset management
-          Fleet management
-          Equipment rental
-          Time and attendance

There are many effective uses for both NFC and RFID, and they don’t have to be glamorous, expensive, incorporate payments, operate on a huge scale, or even in the mass market.  That can wait.

What can help now is a wider awareness and understanding of the technology, the problems facing different groups of people and understanding which technology offers the best fit.

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