EXAMINER -- One of the most promising emerging technologies in Ireland is RFID tagging. This fact emerged during presentations and vendor displays at the INBITE conference in Thurles last November and it continues percolating in publications read by supply chain professionals.
Three months ago, Nokia introduced the first RFID phone kit. Developers have taken this software and used phones with RFID technology alongside Near Field Communication (NFC). This two-way data exchange system occurs when devices link directly to each other, without the intervention of any intermediary device or system. You can see the technology working aboard London Transport. People with Oyster cards just wave their tickets near the yellow button and they’re good to go. Swipe cards seem so dated when you can make your way around turnstiles without even taking your travel card out of your wallet. This convenient technology speeds up events beyond bus queues.
ABI Research predicts that before the end of the decade, 50% of all mobile phones will include RFID chips to use NFC. Consider some scenarios. You’re standing at a bus stop reading a poster about a new film. By pointing your phone at the poster, you connect to a website, buy a ticket, and charge your credit card account. This technology is being tested now. It uses validation data stored on your phone’s SIM card and that means you have to key in a second access code before you give away any money but everything else is point and buy.
Any sales point that uses a credit card reader could also bolt on NFC devices. Assuming RFID achieves the same acceptance as bar codes, your mobile phone could be your ultimate swipe card.
NFC technology uses short-range RFID transmissions that provide easy and secure communications between various devices. You have to be within 20cm to a swipe point (a poster, billboard, or cash till). Without ever dialling a number, you could check into a hotel, book a flight, purchase concert tickets or pay for a meal.
The most important feature of Nokia’s NFC is that no user configuration is required. The RFID tag inside the phone can connect automatically on its own. It might use NFC-enabled Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can see what you’re about to buy through the phone’s Web browser. Then you can maneuver on the phone’s screen to transfer content such as a coupon, audio clip or video file.
"NFC is interesting because it is a peer-to-peer communication protocol enabling two (RFID) cards to talk, while also simultaneously being an active and passive RFID solution," says Erik Michielsen, a director at ABI Research in Oyster Bay, New York.
Since all devices are equipped with built-in RFID readers, two-way communication is possible Depending on the type of NFC device, data transfer rates will be 106, 212, or 424 kbps. To make this work, an NFC chip embedded in a phone can act as an RFID reader when the phone is on and a passive smart label or RFID tag when the phone is off. NFC chips can hold 64 to 128 bits of memory Data, which would be likely to include an identification number initially, would be encrypted before it is transmitted.
Some major players have already become to work in manufacturing NFC chips, including Philips, Texas Instruments, Infineon, Sony, ASK and Inside Contactless. Most manufacturers believe that NFC-equipped mobile phones will drive the market. Expect to see the first NFC-equipped handsets in Irish shops by Christmas 2005.
Claire Swedberg wrote in the July 2004 RFID Journal that Visa and Universal Music each have already done trials of NFC-enabled mobile phones with Philips. Visa and Nokia recently completed a trial together in Finland using elements of the Nokia Software Developers’ Kit now available on its Web site. The trials focused on payment and transaction security.
There is one fly in the ointment—Intermec claims it owns patents on RFID chips, readers and tags. They want licensing revenue from all RFID manufacturers. They have launched their first lawsuit against Matrics. Erik Michelsen of ABI Research says “this definitely clouds the UHF Generation 2 standards discussions and is fueling considerable animosity in the industry.” Nonetheless, committee work on the standards look like it will finish by December.
The Intermec “submarine patent” could dampen RFID innovation. Even though patent claims might slow down early adopters, expect your new mobile phone to be a smarter phone than you’ve ever owned before.
Nokia -- NFC Forum
Bernie Goldbach -- "Your phone is your swipe card" in the Irish Examiner, July 30, 2004 and RFID Patent, July 9, 2004.
Nokia -- "Mobile RFID scenarios"
Brad Smith -- "Credit Companies Size Up Mobile Phones"
Claire Swedberg -- "Developing RFID-Enabled Phones"
Ed Sutherland -- "Near Field Communications"
Arik Hasseldahl -- "A hacker's guide to RFID"