NFC: New Fangled Communication Gizmo

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Achieving breakthrough improvement requires breakthrough thinking and ideas. These ideas are not necessarily complicated; sometimes a simple (in hindsight) change or idea can have breakthrough impact. These ideas are not necessarily expensive; I have seen many breakthrough ideas that were basically cobbled together with humble parts. Sometimes, process breakthrough does require the smart application of new technologies. One technology that is worth understanding so that you can keep an eye open for new and unconventional applications is NFC or Near Field Communications.

NFC is a wireless technology that allows two devices to exchange information. The current specification calls for the devices to be within about 3/4 of an inch of each other. When the close physical proximity is combined with encryption, NFC becomes a viable means of conducting transactions such as payment through a digital wallet on your smartphone.

NFC is based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). RFID uses passive electronic tags to store data. When an RFID reader supplies power to the RFID tag via magnetic induction, the tag broadcasts its data to the reader. NFC is similar but can also work between two powered NFC devices, allowing for two-way data exchange.

Replacing debit and credit cards is one possible killer app for NFC, but there are other uses worth exploring. For example, NFC-enable medical devices could monitor your vital signs and dispense medication or other interventions when needed. NFC could be used as a smarter kind of access card, allowing for more precise control and alteration of access privileges. Tickets to events and for transportation could be enabled by this same system. Imagine using smartphones (which more and more employees have) to replace more costly RFID readers, and the possibilities for tracking inventory, equipment and tools could be greatly enhanced.

Using NFC for advertising and marketing applications also opens up big possibilities. At present only about 3 or 4% of smartphones have NFC built-in, including the BlackBerry Bold and some Android phones. But Robert Levy of BrandSpark, a market research firm, wrote that NFC “is the way of the future. When doing on-the-street interviews with consumers it became clear that NFC was easier and more convenient. That’s going to be a big driver for adoption.” Jerrid Grimm of Newad observed that “while QR (Quick Response) codes (those square bar code things) are more predominant now, the great thing about NFC is that’s built into the phone so you don’t need to download an app.”

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