Incoming disruption: Near Field Communication (NFC) - Electronics News
talked to Patrick Crooks, strategy and consulting manager at NFC Wireless about the local success story, and the case for NFC adoption.
“From time to time, there’s real disruptive technology that comes along. We believe that NFC is one of those disruptive technologies,” Crooks said.
This belief led to the establishment of NFC Wireless 18 months ago, primarly as a web storefront for NFC technology.
According to Crooks, he came from a background of implementing mobile banking in developing countries.
“In all of the large scale projects we have been working on in the last 7 years, NFC would really change the implementation of mobile banking, as an example,” Crooks said. “And we know it is relevant to ticketing, to hospitality, etc. We realise there are a lot of functions once NFC hit mobile phones.”
When it was first started, NFC Wireless’ aim was to provide a support base for early adopters of NFC. In 2012, most people were buying its products for experimental purposes and development, but the market is rapidly changing.
“In the last four or so months, we’ve seen line of business managers are contacting us to ask for equipment for larger projects,” Crooks said.
“We can see a difference, by the week, in terms of how NFC is being adopted in the market.”
According to Crooks, the products are based on the Smart Track inlays (the part which stores the information on the chip), which it imports from Europe.
Assembly of the inlays and antennas take place at a contracted factory in China, where it is also inserted into the different form factors.
“The key thing for us is around quality,” Crooks said. “It’s very easy to source the chip directly from China, but where NFC is being used for marketing, where you put brands on a chip, or for financial transactions, quality is important, as is reliability.”
“That’s why we’ve gone to all the effort to manufacture rather than just buying directly.”
While NFC Wireless has gone to great lengths to make the technology accessible for end users, and touts the easy programmability of its products, Crooks says the store is not yet catering to mainstream consumers.
“Our main customers to date have been IT people, developers and companies,” he said. “There are consumers who buy chips and experiment with them, but they’re a small proportion. There are also corporates who are looking for NFC technology.”
But the eventual aim is for NFC to hit the mainstream.
“The more people that are aware of the NFC capability of their hand sets, the more we can make it accessible to them and let them experiment with it, the more use cases will emerge,” Crooks said.
The potential applications of NFC are already diverse, and the list is growing, be it in healthcare, financial services, hospitality or marketing.
“We’ve done a lot around tracking of assets, and also tracking of contractors and their interaction with assets,” said Crooks.
NFC, for example, could be useful in a company with a large site and machinery scattered across a large geographic area. The technology could be used to track what contractors are doing with the different machines and parts. Health and safety problems can also be logged against the assets using NFC.
“Our focus at the moment is where we can control the handsets,” Crooks explained. “If you take a contract management company, you can make sure each person has an NFC-enabled handset.”
While a lot of asset tracking today is done via RFID, Crooks says NFC has certain advantages, not least of all its accessibility.
“Because it’s not a proprietary technology and is moving into the mass market handsets, the cost of deployment is lower,” Crooks said.
“A normal hand set can read NFC tags. That’s an advantage: you have more developers and a lot more people are NFC-enabled, and it’s much cheaper to buy an NFC enabled handset than a specialist RFID device.”
Crooks says NFC is due for a breakthrough in 2013.
“We see the data coming through our web store front, and from the quality of the discussions we have had, we do think that this year is the year it moves from being an experimental technology to a more mainstream technology,” he told.
The standards are in place, and NFC-enabled handset adoption and penetration are picking up, with the only real stumbling block being Apple’s reluctance to implement NFC on its iPhones.
“This year I see NFC becoming a mainstream product in organisations,” Crooks said. “The main consumer adoption will start happening at the end of this year and early into next year, where stuff like mobile marketing, actually delivering tickets to phone handsets etc become more prevalent.”
Crooks and the NFC Wireless team will be attending Mobile World Congress 2013 to get an international perspective on the latest thinking around mobile technology, which he says will help the company recalibrate its vision.