What is NFC and do we have enough reasons to excited about it?


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A discussion has started that if Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s announcement on Monday about NFC with Nexus S was a shot that Nokia should have taken many days before and if this is again a marketing failure from Nokia part. Is this a sign of weak confidence to attract vendors or the major market of Nokia (not Europe and west but Asian continent) is not ready yet to come strong on NFC?

Let’s take a look over the technology first …

What is Near Field Communication (NFC)?

As per Wiki article

Near Field Communication or NFC, is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology which enables the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimeter (around 4 inches) distance.The technology is a simple extension of the ISO/IEC 14443 proximity-card standard (proximity card, RFID) that combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device. An NFC device can communicate with both existing ISO/IEC 14443 smartcards and readers, as well as with other NFC devices, and is thereby compatible with existing contactless infrastructure already in use for public transportation and payment.

NFC is primarily aimed at usage in mobile phones.

nfc

A patent licensing program for NFC is currently under development by Via Licensing Corporation, an independent subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories, while a Public, platform independent Near Field Communication (NFC) library is released under the free GNU Lesser General Public License by the name libnfc.


Existing usages in India

The same technology been under trial across the world in many areas since last seven years (even in India Delta Technologies and Citi Tap and Pay – Citibank India trialing it). Many mobile payment technologies making use of it across world including Nokia and Samsung as of now. Even VISA and MasterCard also working on it at some places.

Applications of NFC

The applications of the such a technology are plenty like Electronic ticketing, Electronic money, Travel cards, Identity documents, Mobile commerce and Electronic keys etc. Exciting for many, as it will make the life even more easier as your smart phone will be one device for all your needs, movies, internet browsing, navigation, music and now even used as a credit card or debit card.

How is it different from already popular Bluetooth technology? Limitations ..

Disadvantages over Bluetooth

  1. Lesser data transfer speeds (max 848 kbps)
  2. Shorter range (max 20 cm) than Bluetooth technology.
  3. Upcoming Bluetooth 4.0 low energy protocol will be consuming even lower power than NFC as of now
  4. NFC alone does not ensure secure communications is vulnerable to data modifications. Applications have to use higher-layer cryptographic protocols (e.g., SSL) to establish a secure channel.

Advantages over Bluetooth

  1. Almost instant connection (around 1/10 seconds) in comparison to pairing procedure of Bluetooth
  2. Low power consumption and could work (alternatively) even when one of the device is powerless
  3. NFC is compatible with existing passive RFID (13.56 MHz ISO/IEC 18000-3) infrastructures
  4. Shorter range makes it suitable for crowded area with high interferences

Not sure, if I am concluding right, but then rather than the tech itself, what’s being stressed as advantage of  NFC is the already existing infrastructure for that. I wish to remind people that NFC is not being used in secure payment methods yet, secure means encrypted ones and is very much hack-able.

In other practical limitations, it’s the requirement for compatibility with legacy deployments, including payment systems such as MiFare (used by London’s Oyster cards) which operate at 13.56MHz. MiFare and it’s ilk work over very short ranges, typically a few centimetres, and can be powered by current induced by the reader. NFC, by necessity, shares those capabilities so will operate even if the phone’s battery is dead, but that also means the transmitting at very low power, far too low to break out of a phone casing. This therefore forces NFC to rely on an external antenna to operate.

Why NFC is still half baked technology when it comes to financial usages?

The most dangerous aspects of NFC, which is being skipped while talking about easy financial applications are related to security and unfortunately most of them still open, which puts a big question mark on implementation of such a technology in financial domain at least. This been a kind of dead technology for this domain since years due to some serious limitations. Most of them were mentioned in a paper long back, PDF link here, worth reading once, mentioning a few of them here in my words…

  • Lost property
    The biggest threat to this technology is the simplest phenomenon, loosing your cell. Against the common PIN security mechanisms, NFC one is a PIN-less method, means once someone else gets his hands on your lost phone, there will be no stopping misuse of the same till you get your account cancelled from carrier. Obviously, software running on top will come up with some solution to this.
  • Eavesdropping
    There are already many methods to intercept the communication between two devices over NFC. An Open source device which is able to eavesdrop passive and active NFC communications is the Proxmark instrument.
  • Data modification/ destruction
    Data destruction is relatively easy to realize, while by complex measures one can even modify the bits of data. Though there are methods that an NFC device could employ to avoid such threats and possibilities.
  • Relay attack
    Because NFC devices are usually also implementing ISO/IEC 14443 functionality, the relay attack described are also feasible on NFC. For this attack the adversary has to forward the request of the reader to the victim and relay back its answer to the reader in real time, in order to carry out a task pretending to be the owner of the victim’s smart card. One of libnfc code examples demonstrates a relay attack using only two stock commercial NFC devices.
  • Walk off
    Once lawfully opened access to secure function or data is usually protected with time out closing on pausing the usage. Modern attack concepts may interfere despite the intention to shut down access when the user turns inactive. The distance of a successful attacker to the locus of lawfully granted access is not addressed with any of the described concepts of NFC.

 

Nokia and NFC

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I was like big time surprised, when I came to know that my oldest handset Nokia 3220 had NFC back in 2004. It was actually the first commercial product including NFC that shows that Nokia is always unbeatable when it comes to adopting the latest tech and bringing to the world.

Nokia was an early backer of NFC and co-founded the NFC Forum in 2004 with the technology’s creators, Philips Semiconductors and Sony Corp. Nokia had earlier introduced four NFC models, the 3220 and companion 5140, the 6131 and the 3G 6216. These phones have accounted for more than half of NFC trials and other NFC projects held since 2005, NFC Times estimates, (see Project Database) and were some of the few available for sale.

Recently in February 2010, they were about to come up with Nokia 6216 model, which was going to be the first NFC SIM phone ever came to market and it was even notified to leading operators, but later on the idea got cancelled.

There is still a pressure from operators to bring this tech early on handset. Not from Nokia, but some of experts even say that built-in NFC inside the SIM cards would be more reasonable than a specialized phone, if the carrier really care about it.

Is NFC gonna pull the market?

While there was much talk about NFC in tech world since long, its sure been Google CEO, who should be credited for bringing it in lime light again, which was fading since Nokia delayed the commercial implementation. But what more turns the technology gonna take?

Definitely, the technology is not about the hardware only due to its current unsecure nature and sure it remains a question that should the big tech leaders put money behind this project, when it will still rely on software implementations or should look over other alternatives like China is trying with their own RF SIMs. 

Pushing NFC Technology on big scales is a risk that was once taken by Nokia in 2003, when they co-founded the NFC forum, but still after 7 years of trials across the world, we don’t see much momentum behind the technology in comparison the development in other wireless technologies like Bluetooth etc. While Nokia still taking risk around their once founded Symbian Forum, sure it stands a hard question that they should take the same risk of pushing NFC on big scales.

I don’t think that Nokia is wrong on it

I think Nokia gonna be silently putting NFC chips in all of its upcoming models and will be observing other big movements like Google’s move. Whenever they find the infra in place, they will be ready to go without doing anything as hardware will be already in place and just a software update and some negotiations will make it. Simple reasoning is Nokia can’t stand behind the name of a failures, while Google is used to face many like their Wave, Buzz etc.

What you think on it? Please tell

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Author: Nitish Kumar

I love to write and raising voice, sharing thought and heated debate is a kind of passion for me. Jobwise I am just another Computer professional handling Infra and designing solutions for a big Indian Media house but I love to write, sketch, photography and a lot more.

3 thoughts on “What is NFC and do we have enough reasons to excited about it?”

  1. My paper “” now in the talks highly about the “Near field Communication” NFC chips in the future cell phones and its great importance to society to get rid of corruption. In the coming days or years the NFC gradually going replace the Cash money and eventually completely get rid of the Cash money (currency). It is necessary that the devices (cell-phones) having NFC must also importantly should have the Biometric Identity crucially for security reason to prevent cyber crimes but most importantly to prevent these people becoming target of all sorts of crimes like fraud, theft, mugging, burglary, robbery etc, even from getting murdered for the money. There should be a limit to the amount of money these NFC’s can hold and these cell phones need to be equipped with the internet connection so the money can be transferred (deposited and withdrawn) online from the persons bank account to the NFC while its transaction data details gets downloaded and recorded in the banks digital data storage. In short, this will make sure every money transaction between people, licit as well illicit gets recorded in the banks providing concrete evidence of any such economic crimes any times afterwards. This in turn will most effectively deter people from indulging in all kinds of corruptions and crimes as a whole.
    Herby I request you please to help in informing this most important anti-corruption feature of the NFC to the people. My other blog titled at – Valerian Texeira

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