Jul 26, 2023

7 Insights from the NFC Forum Technical Roadmap

Last month, NFC Forum and its members launched its technical roadmap outlining its ambitions to extend NFC Standards to support additional NFC technology capabilities. The work focuses on five key areas, which were presented publicly in a webinar by NFC Forum’s community of experts.

In the coming months, NFC Forum will publish deeper insights into each topic. To kick-start this series, we ask what we learnt from this first introduction to the roadmap?

1. Industry harmonization is at the heart of NFC Forum’s plan.  

The NFC Forum highlighted that any advancements to their standards needed to enhance current uses of NFC and support the aspirations of the Forum’s many partners both now and into the future. To achieve this, the group acknowledged it needs to be clear on why it is evolving capabilities and how these evolutions align with the reality and requirements of the market. The NFC Compliance Committee will be central in this activity to ensure the integrity of the NFC Forum Certification Programme and established frameworks, as well as coordinate with partners to ensure interoperability.

2. Wireless charging gets bigger.

NFC Forum’s plans to optimize the capabilities of NFC wireless charging up to 3 watts is already advancing and in the development phase. The dedicated task force within the Analog Working Group   is  enjoying the challenge, but emphasised it has been and will continue to be a multifaceted process with more challenges ahead. The group stressed that when you push ‘power into the air’ you need to do so effectively and considerately.

They believe there is significant value in making this work item happen, detailing benefits from reducing charging times to enabling better industrial design. It will also support new use cases such as powering a wider range of diverse devices and offering a valid replacement for ‘standby batteries’.

3. Everyone is excited about increasing the range of NFC.

The most substantial discussion of the day focused on the game-changing ambition to increase the range of NFC. Improving the performance of the reader mode would allow the connection between the NFC antenna and receiver to start from further away when two devices begin to move together. This means the connection point would not need to be as precise.

The result? A faster, more reliable user experience. But, again, while still in research mode, the group did not shy away from recognizing the challenge, specifically highlighting the delicate balance between improved performance, power consumption, and maintaining the antenna size. It must be mindful of product design requirements.

A range of panellists contributed use case examples that would benefit this work, such as optimizing NFC usability within automotive; increasing throughput volumes within sectors such as transit; as well as enabling NFC to be used in new environments where connection points need to be at a greater distance.  

Beyond the more obvious uses, there are also opportunities in markets such as health cards and systems, allowing individuals to carry data to assist health professionals to access sensitive information and improve service delivery, while reducing paperwork and burdening a system.

4. Smartphones can become reliable point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

Increasing the range of NFC will further improve device-to-device payments to enable and enhance off-network payment systems and applications, according to the NFC Forum Roadmap discussion. The panel highlighted that trends within the POS industry demonstrate that using smartphones to accept payments is becoming a reality but given power and mobility considerations may require unique considerations compared to dedicated payment terminals.

The group confirmed initial research studies show that if the antennas are cleanly aligned, devices successfully function. Its work now is focusing on improving performance when devices are not positioned as precisely. It also wants to evangelize system integrators and software vendors looking to implement these solutions, to look to the device screen to provide guidance and assistance to users in this new payment use case..

5. Multi-purpose tap delivers the ultimate consumer convenience.  

While the panel was adamant that contactless cards aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, it was acknowledged that it is a one-sided operation. In contrast, a smartphone has the potential to enable multiple actions to happen with one tap. Paperless receipts, loyalty points delivered with payment, purchasing travel tickets while automatically applying the correct taxes & concessions would streamline the user experience. The improved usability and enhanced convenience was unanimously deemed one of the most important impacts of multi-purpose tap advances.  

Still in use case ideation stage, the NFC Forum members leading the work are currently defining an overarching architecture to structure this initiative.

6. NFC supporting the circulatory economy and sustainability is a huge opportunity.

NFC Forum is having exciting conversations with relevant partners to define requirements for the European Union mandates around the Digital Product Passport. The panel explained the role NFC technology could play to store data on how products can be recycled, and its focus on standardizing on-device data by enhancing an NFC chips’ ability as a ‘data carrier’. This could then be embedded into batteries, consumer electronics, and textiles. Consumers would use their smartphones to read the sustainability information, enabling them to identify ways to responsibly recycle their goods.

One of the key appeals of NFC in this use case is its traceability. Unlike other solutions, the data on an NFC chipset is bound to the device and can’t be discarded or defaced in the same way a QR Code or Barcode can. Data integrity was flagged as being especially important as ownership changes throughout a product’s lifecycle and could be used to differentiate between authentic and counterfeit products.

7. Don’t sit back; get involved.  

While each topic is progressing at pace, the panelists echoed the NFC Forum Executive Director’s key message; companies actively engaged with NFC should join the discussions. From the breadth of expertise and knowledge of the panelists present on the call, it was evident that there is a strong commitment from leading industry players to deliver significant advancements in the coming months and years. Key takeaway: NFC is moving into an exciting new phase and there are some significant market players making this happen, so don’t miss your chance to be part of the conversation.  

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