What Is NFC?

Near Field Communication technology impacts you in so many ways

Credit card reader that uses NFC technology to accept payments including Apple Pay

Bryan Thomas / Getty Images

NFC technology is so much more than mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay and the tap-and-go payment terminals at your favorite coffee shop. Let's take a look at some other uses for NFC and learn more about what it is, how it works, and whether or not its a safe method for transmitting your personal and financial data.

What Is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. It's essentially a form of wireless data transfer that enables devices located near each other to communicate with one another without requiring an internet connection.

Usually, this means both devices are right next to each other — about the same distance your phone would have to be from the Apple Pay terminal in stores. We're talking less than an inch apart from each other; hence the word "near" in Near Field Communication.

How Near Field Communication Works

NFC works as a wireless signal that transmits data via radio waves, usually between two devices outfitted with NFC chips. The data transfer between the chips is generally triggered when the two NFC-compatible devices are placed very close to each other. Furthermore, when two NFC devices come within range of each other, the passive NFC device of the two can be powered on by an electromagnetic field produced by the nearby active NFC device.

According to Android Authority, NFC data transfers can be completed at 106, 212, or 424 kilobits per second. Such relatively quick transfer rates can facilitate data transfers like sending contact details or even music to another device.

Beyond Payment: Other Applications of NFC Technology

As we mentioned earlier, there are other uses for NFC technology beyond just paying for your cup of coffee with your phone. Here are a few other ways in which NFC is used in technology today:

Android Beam

Android Beam is an Android smartphone feature that allows you to transfer content like web pages, videos, and contact information using NFC between two Android devices brought close together, back-to-back.

Keyless Entry

NFC technology can also be used to grant access to locked cars, doors, or restricted areas by using NFC tags as key fobs or as ID badges.

Advertising

NFC tags have also been used in advertising, much like QR codes. NFC tags can be embedded in advertisements to digitally provide more information about a product when scanned.

NFC and Data Security

For the most part, using NFC technology to transmit and receive personal or financial data is widely considered to be a secure method of doing so. As HowStuffWorks notes, NFC technology's security is in large part due to the NFC's short-distance range. In other words, someone intending to hack your NFC data would have to be right next to you in order to do it.

Even then, there's no guarantee your phone's NFC signal would even be turned on enough for a hacker to exploit it. The NFC on your phone generally only activates when necessary, like when you put it near an Apple Pay payment terminal.

That being said, there are still a few security concerns NFC technology comes with. Essentially, when it comes to NFC security, the main thing to remember is to be careful about what you allow your NFC-enabled device to scan or tap. You might think you're scanning an advertisement for a product you want to know more about, but the embedded NFC tag could be corrupted and might transfer malware to your phone instead.

Likewise, spyware can also be transmitted by another NFC-enabled phone, so make sure you trust the person using NFC to swap contact information by bumping your phones together.

NFC technology is so much more than just a payment method. It's become a valuable and effective method of data transfer.