Lowdown: Near field communications

Adam Graham

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a subset of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), but whereas RFID can work over distances of more than a kilometre, NFC only works up to a maximum of 10 cm, so it is much more intimate and secure.

Currently, the most widespread use of NFC is in 'contactless' payment solutions, such as the new Visa payWave cards where you can touch the card on a reader, rather than insert it and enter a PIN. The same technology is being used in phones, so you can touch your phone to make a transaction. But unlike cards, smartphones can run apps and go online, so, one device with an NFC chip can act as a virtual wallet, accessing all your accounts, cards, PayPal and even your train ticket. A phone can do much more than pay for things. It could know all of your accounts and all your various loyalty schemes, suggesting which card to use based on a variety of factors.