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How Does NFC Work?

Here at PayProTec, we think mobile payments technology has incredible potential for the merchant and consumer. But as sleek as systems like Google Wallet and Apple Pay are, they would be worthless without the underlying technology that makes them tick.

Near field communication (NFC) is a technology that allows the wireless sharing of small batches of data, but over a very short distance—typically four centimeters or less. This is useful for the mobile payments industry, as it allows consumers to use devices like smartphones instead of physical credit cards. NFC is distinguished from Bluetooth LE by its shorter range, which is offset by its lower battery consumption.

For years, companies like Google and Samsung preferred NFC as a mobile payments solution, while Apple seemed reluctant to incorporate it. That changed when Apple Pay was announced and revealed to use NFC. NFC seems to have beat Bluetooth as the preferred payments technology of both Android and Apple, and for good reason. 

Like WiFi and Bluetooth, NFC sends information using radio waves. Near field communication is a set of standards for these data transfers, and devices must adhere to those standards in order to be compatible.

NFC technology is based on radio frequency identification (RFID), which uses electromagnetic induction to communicate. If that’s all Greek to you, don’t worry: All you need to know is that this means NFC doesn’t require its own power supply, and is instead powered by the electromagnetic field of another NFC component when it comes into range. This helps NFC conserve your device’s battery power, and allows connections between devices in a mere tenth of a second.

While NFC beats Bluetooth in power consumption and connection speed, Bluetooth LE does have one or two advantages. First, it works at a much greater range of 10 meters. Second, it transmits data much faster once a connection is established—1 Mbit/s compared to NFC’s 424 kbit/s.

The advantages and drawbacks of each technology are illustrated by the relationship between Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch. Both devices use NFC during Apple Pay transactions, which require quick, automatic data transfers over short distances. On the other hand, a Bluetooth LE connection pairs the two devices, allowing for greater distance and faster, larger data transfers.

So next time you pay with a bump of your smartphone, take a moment to think about the incredible technology that makes it possible. And remember, consumers can’t use NFC payments at businesses that don’t provide compatible POS hardware. Get in contact with a PayProTec representative to find out how we can help you keep up with cutting-edge payments technology.

As a Content Specialist at 212 Media Studios, Ethan Sheckler enjoys writing tight, creative marketing copy. He is passionate about helping small business see great results from content marketing. He and his new wife Katie reside in Warsaw, Indiana.

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