Special Guest Author David Smith

As 2019 comes to an end, the next generation of cellular networks – 5G is getting deployed by cellular operators across the world in different cities. Similar to the 4G revolution that started 10 years back in 2009, we will soon see people upgrading to 5G enabled mobile phones. As of October 2019, the number of announced 5G devices has risen to 129, across 15 form factors, from 56 vendors and includes routers, robots, vending machines, etc besides mobiles phones. It may be unclear to a few, why a new cellular network should prompt the upgrade of these other devices. This is because in addition to providing a high-speed, low-latency network with an expected speed of 2Gbit/s, the 5G specification also addresses specific requirements for IoT and other critical communications networks. 5G is expected to boost IoT implementation by laying the foundation for IoT networks to achieve their full potential. 5G will also provide opportunity to create new kinds of futuristic applications which may sound like science fiction today.

So how does the arrival of 5G impact NFC applications. While 5G addresses the larger picture of wireless technology, NFC deals with short-range wireless connectivity. Does one really need to interfere with the other? The short answer for this is probably “No”. On the other hand they may converge or work together in different types of applications. In this article we will explore the possible ways in which these two technologies will be thrown together in the future and the design choices that manufacturers may need to make when implementing new use cases.

Let us start with the mobile payments world because that is probably the most commonly used NFC application. We are able to make payments at POS payment terminals today by using our NFC enabled mobile phones. While the communication between the POS terminal and our phones is enabled by NFC, that between the phone and bank which has issued the card that is being used to make the actual payment is enabled by a wireless/cellular network. Today that network is a 4G network. 5G with its promise of super-fast data transfer, ultra-low latency and better connectivity to the cloud is expected to boost the speed of real-time transactions to previously unknown levels. 5G will also enable the use of better authentication techniques including multi-modal authentication. This will make mobile payment transactions more secure. Secure and faster transactions will attract more consumers towards making mobile payments. Thus NFC and 5G enabled mobile phones should be in great demand in the future. 5G in this case would serve as the glue for the end-to-end macro level communication while NFC will help at the micro level.

5G is also expected to bring about a faster advances in the smart car and autonomous cars segment. Due to its high speed and bandwidth, it will allow features such as an efficient local area Wi-Fi hotspot, remote monitoring of cars that are connected to the internet and better control for autonomous cars. Smart cars are another example where 5G can be used at the macro level while NFC is used at the micro level for example to unlock the car. Again it would be a design choice for manufacturers on which communication technology would serve users better at each stage.

IoT is another area where different communication technologies could converge with Artificial Intelligence and Data analytics to result in applications with better cognitive abilities. 5G has been designed to facilitate connected devices and automation systems. It will accelerate the next industrial revolution through industrial automation systems and also make the dream of connected homes and connected automobiles more accessible. The user interface for some of these systems could be provided by wearable technology which will be a key element of the man-machine interface. Wearables like smart watches and smart glasses could interact both with the near-to-me world through NFC or Bluetooth wireless communication and to the far-away world through 5G and Wi-Fi. This convergence between different types of devices aided by different types of communication technologies could result in a wide variety of applications in both the commercial as well as the personal user’s space.

Thus, we can see that while 5G and NFC are really in different categories of communication technology and there is no reason for one to impact the other, but they could together provide a complete end-to-end link between the Internet, machines and humans.

David Smith is a cryptographer specializing in the study of contactless payments and microtransactions, primarily in the Chinese market. He occasionally consults with smart card companies at Cardzgroup.com and you can also connect David in Linkedin

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NFC Forum.