A Big Year for NFC

When we think of important developments in mobile technology, there is something happening out there that is going to have a big impact on how we live and how we think of money.

Near Field Communication, or NFC is being field tested in some cities by business giants like Google.  Google has been focusing on NFC for some time and is working with large and some small retailers to provide a new way to pay at the cashier.  Last year they introduced the Google Wallet, which allows you to make payments with your phone, and we know other companies are paying more attention to it as well.

What is NFC? Essentially, it’s technology that allows radio communication between mobile devices, or devices and a reader, by touching them or bringing them in close proximity to each other. Data can also be exchanged through an NFC device and an unpowered chip called a tag.

While NFC resembles technologies such as Bluetooth and WiFi in some ways, those tools tend to be geared more toward tech-savvy users. Also, while NFC sets up faster than Bluetooth and automatically establishes a connection quickly, it transfers data slower than Bluetooth and has a shorter range.

Vensi anticipates NFC will become ubiquitous and will be adopted by the mass market beginning with purchases, so that people no longer need to carry their credit cards with them; they can keep their phone handy and use that to make payments. We see a lot of other options for it, too, including facilitating exchanges of information. For example, let’s say you run across someone and want to trade business cards. You will be able to bring your phones together to exchange information that way.

New uses for NFC definitely seem to be on the rise. PatientID+, for example, allows users to store their medical information on a device or tag, then transfer that data to health care providers on arrival (after entering a PIN), with no more tedious forms to fill out. In Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul, NFC phones are now being used by public transport operators to read ticket information and verify payments.

Clearly, anytime credit card or health information can be shared by mobile devices, security needs to be taken into account. With NFC, security may be even more critical, as data could conceivably be picked up from a distance with an antenna. That being the case, encryption is absolutely necessary, and making certain to use a PIN or password also greatly enhances security. (According to a survey taken last year by AVG and the Ponemon Institute, less than half of consumers used key locks or passwords to secure their mobile devices — obviously this is an area in need of improvement). There are also devices now that can recognize users’ faces or be unlocked with a thumb impression.

Such security technologies will no doubt continue to be developed as we trust our mobile devices for sharing and storing ever-more-sensitive data. One thing is for certain: NFC isn’t going away. As a matter of fact, we think it will actually be a big driving force in the economy beginning this year.

Cell Phone Carrier Bullies

Europe and Asia have been ahead of the US in many areas of technology for decades, and it’s no different when it comes to payment technology. For quite a while, cell phone users in Europe for example, have had the ability to pay for transactions with their phones, and businesses benefit from the convenient method of accepting payments. There’s a good reason why consumers in Europe have this capability: Europe doesn’t have a few large cell phone companies dominating the market like the US does. This lack of dominance within the cell phone market in Europe allows the smaller companies to be more competitive and innovative, so they advance more quickly than we do in the States.

Payment by cell phone is an option that can offer a huge number of benefits to both businesses and consumers. Vensi believes that businesses may eventually look to smart phones that aren’t carrier based, whether they use voice over IP options or other technologies, in an effort to develop products for phones that aren’t limited by carrier restrictions. It can be very frustrating for a large corporation to be restricted based on what large cell phone carriers are targeting at consumers. Some of these restrictions can seem arbitrary and self-serving…cell phone carriers can act like bullies in this country.

A prime example is the newest Android, the Galaxy Nexus. As a mobile development firm, we’ve been waiting anxiously for the Galaxy Nexus to be released. It’s supposed to have Ice Cream Sandwich, a new operating system for the Android platform designed to enhance functionality. It was also supposed to have both NFC and Google Wallet. The phone was delayed, however, because unfortunately, one of the major carriers nixed Google Wallet from the phone.

The problem with cell phone carrier bullies is that, in some ways, they control the market – and the technology that is available to businesses and consumers. They become very protective and territorial, wanting all of the services to go through them as a carrier, placing a lot of restrictions on their OEMs.

Google Wallet was removed from the new Android because it represented a loss of control to the carrier. Cell phone carrier bullies, rather than using an already-developed service that would immediately benefit businesses and consumers, are greedy and try to develop their own service first to maximize their profit.

Some of the larger cell phone networks have caused an unnecessary challenge for developers, depriving businesses and consumers from the full technological advantages that other people around the globe have been enjoying for a long time. From a mobile application development perspective, adopting a European attitude toward cell phone carriers and cell phone technologies would provide a huge benefit to businesses and consumers in the US, increasing innovation and reducing costs.Sadly, that won’t change until we all stand up to cell phone carrier bullies and demand full access to all the breakthroughs and advances.

Age of the Mobile Wallet and Beyond: Bring on the NFC Apps

In a survey posted by MasterCard earlier this year, 63 percent of participants age 18 to 34 told the company they essentially wanted their smartphone to replace their wallets. This is a major development for business as consumers are increasingly demanding the ability to make mobile payments. The question is, are you gearing up to be able to accept them?

The Samsung Nexus is the first phone to come equipped with Google Wallet, which is an Android app that stores credit card information and uses Near-Field Communications (NFC) to pay for goods, redeem points and share other types of information. The system works with MasterCard. Visa and iPhone have a similar venture going on in Europe.

The buzz in the tech world has been mounting over bringing NFC to the mainstream in the United States. It’s already old hat in Japan and some parts of Europe where consumers bump their phones to pay for a ride on the subway or purchase movie tickets.

Applications. Although making and receiving payments via the smartphone is an exciting new frontier for your business, it’s certainly not the only way NFC can make your shop run smoother.

Trade Shows. Imagine exhibiting at a conference and rather than lugging or shipping thousands of your own brochures, your booth visitors simply bump their smartphones. In one fell swoop they could automatically transmit their contact information to you and download your material in exchange.

If you’re running the show, the smartphone could eliminate the exorbitant expense of conference badges and automatically do the sorting of who belongs in what meeting and when. You would also have an automatic way of determining when you’re overcapacity and need overflow, and you could easily text room changes and cancellations.

Home/Office Security.  NFC can also extend to many of the security features you control via computer or landline phone. We’re thinking about operations like unlocking your home or garage or conducting access control at the office with the phone.

Social Media and App Development. Foursquare and Facebook’s location-based services have been experimenting with NFC technology for use in check-ins. If your small business runs an active social media program, you could enable NFC to pass along points, discounts and other rewards at the point of sale/transaction. And you could allow your customers to lend their own points to friends by bumping each other. Earlier this month RIM announced the NFC capabilities of two lines of BlackBerry and unveiled BlackBerry Tag, which allow users to bump phones and exchange data.

The app development potential is boundless at this point, from NFC-based purchases, ID and rewards point inventory management, social media integration, games and much, much more., The field is wide open for market leaders to step in and offer exciting and compelling new ways to help enhance customer’s shopping experience and to customize promotions and advertising directed at customers.  How will your business leverage this amazing new technology opportunity? Will you lead or follow?

Match Made in Heaven: NFC and Mobile Technology

Near-field communications, or NFC, promises some remarkable innovations for business and consumers with a number of applications you should be able to take advantage of right away.

A Primer

NFC is a type of short-range radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. It enables device-to-device data transfers, payments and a host of other business solutions. The device of choice is the smartphone. That’s what the major smartphone makers are betting on anyway. Google has added NFC support in Android. Samsung’s new Nexus S handset has NFC capability, and reports of Apple’s integration of NFC into the next iteration of the iPhone continue to mount.

The big picture is that you and your customers will be able to use your iPhone or Android to participate in loyalty and social media programs, share business cards and sign up for and receive various other types of information..

The real excitement around the NFC–mobile union, however, is the ability to make and receive payments.  All of this can be accomplished by simply passing your phone near a reader. Phones can act as both a tag and the RFID interrogator.

Ready for Primetime

In the coming months, we’ll likely see a number of applications for smartphone NFC use in the small business arena. One of the classic arguments against NFC is what happens if you lose your phone. Businesses do not need to use this as an excuse to avoid the technology; NFC data are encrypted and the ability to siphon someone’s private data requires proximity of less than four inches. Some NFC renderings will also require use of a PIN, and when linked with credit card processors, offer the same $0 liability as the credit card company.

The point is, NFC is not just some obscure technology that only large enterprises can take advantage of. With use of smartphones peaking, the onus is on business to explore ways to take advantage of their convenience and ubiquity to develop closer and deeper relationships with their clients with applications designed to make the consumer’s experience quicker, more convenient, and more data-centric.