Near-field Communications Nearing a Breakthrough?

Carl Weinschenk

The world is full of overnight sensations that have been struggling for a decade or more. Near-field communications (NFC)-which, among other things, enables people to make payments by waving their phones instead of swiping credit cards-is a great example. NFC is emerging as one of the big stories of the Mobile World Congress running this week in Barcelona.

This Online News Today piece gets right to the point in its definition of NFC and what it can be used for:

While data transfers are slower than Bluetooth, NFC has the advantages of increased usability and better security. Near Field Communications is a wireless technology that operates over short distances; devices can implement this technology to permit a user to, for example, store credits to be used to securely and instantly pay for public transport, eliminating inconvenient additional steps. In addition, NFC uses less power than Bluetooth and can work when one of the devices is off.

The strategic moves surrounding NFC are discussed in this DailyTech column. To this point, it seems that NFC is pitting vendors against carriers in what will be a very high stakes game:

Telecom companies such as Vodafone and France Telecom are looking to get ahead of other mobile giants like Google and Apple-who are leaders of mobile software, devices and applications-by incorporating NFC technology into their mobile devices. In fact, the Mobile World Congress, which opens in Barcelona today, will allow telecom operators to discuss the use of this new technology.

The story describes a rapidly evolving and fluid situation. Rollout of the technology is more advanced in Japan and Korea, and even Starbucks is rolling out a chain-wide system. The major point is that the amount of money in the pot is startling: IE Market Research says that $1.3 trillion is at stake worldwide. The emergence of mobile device-based NFC threatens credit card companies, which represent formidable opposition.

The Yankee Group also noted the interest in NFC as the show in Spain got rolling. The firm said that mobile payments will grow in value from $162 billion last year to $984 billion in 2014. The number of NFC-enabled phones will increase from 834,000 to 151 million during that period. That is a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 300 percent. The value of transactions done on the devices will grow from $27 million to $40 billion during that period.

A number of announcements were made on the NFC front as the conference got under way:

  • Near Field Communications World reports that Samsung's Wave 578 is the vendor's second NFC phone. It runs on the Bada platform, which was given NFC support last month. The phone will be available in France in May and gradually move to Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and China. The story doesn't say if or when it will available in North America.


NFC has been waiting in the wings for several years. It looks like its time on center stage is here.

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