NFC in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Other Parts Discussed in Post: RF430CL330H

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a very popular term today – ubiquitous connection of people and things leading to increased levels of intelligent and autonomous decision making.  Wireless communication is a big enabler of the IoT concept – easing and lowering the cost of infrastructure as well of lowering costs.  The complexity here is related to the multiple standards and protocols that make up wireless communication.  Each wireless technology ― Bluetooth/Bluetooth low energy,  ZigBee, RF4CE and Wi-Fi — is suited for different use cases, devices and applications, differing as they do in bandwidth, read range, security, protocol and cost.

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a very short-range wireless technology that is based on and is similar to RFID technology.  This very short range (a few inches) allows for some unique use experiences – you almost have to touch two devices, bringing them very close to each other to initiate a transaction.  This gives users a feeling of control over the transaction vs. longer range technologies where you don’t quite know, without for example, pressing a command button on your phone screen where you authorize connectivity.  So by using the intuitive experience of touching  two devices, you get the convenience of wireless (no cables) without the need for explicit user interaction over a screen or using a button to establish a connection.  This is becoming an attractive technology option for some human interaction transactions in the IoT world.  NFC can be used to do data transfers or to ease the establishment of connection for other wireless technologies (Bluetooth pairing or Wi-Fi handover).

Using NFC to simplify every day device interaction

NFC was initially targeted at the payments market, but the penetration in mobile devices is creating the all-important infrastructure piece for a number or use cases. However, the future growth will also be driven primarily by enabling NFC connectivity in an easy and cost-effective way in all devices. Adding NFC is as easy and natural as other interfaces – USB or UART or SPI or I2C – in the wired world in embedded devices. 

Let me give you some examples of NFC making connectivity easy. Think of printers and cameras equipped with NFC to simplify Wi-Fi handover or Bluetooth pairing, which enables photographs or documents to be transferred to and from a smartphone or tablet.  Or think about the audio world where wireless Bluetooth speakers or headsets can be more easily paired with smartphones and each other using NFC – just by touching them to each other/ a smartphone (this is even more convenient when you see that speakers and headsets don’t have a large display/keypad if any). 

NFC can also be used as a service interface in home appliances to retrieve diagnostic data or update firmware by touching a smartphone/mobile device to these appliances. The same is true in the smart grid world for smart electricity, gas and water meters. The applications and applicability to devices all around us is endless for NFC – it’s all about making device connectivity easy, intuitive and cost effective, which is key to user acceptance of this paradigm of intelligent device-to-device connectivity. NFC will likely be one of the key contributors to the vision and growth of the IoT.

TI and NFC

TI has recently announced new NFC solutions, which are all about enabling this vision of connecting the  IoT in an easy, cost effective manner.  This is a transition from standalone NFC connectivity (an independent NFC chip in a device or a card) to a more embedded, integrated architecture that drives more intelligence and a better user experience.  The Dynamic NFC Transponder RF430CL330H, for example, includes SPI and I2C connectivity interfaces in addition to NFC (it has the full NFC functionality on board) so it can be attached to any processor in the system, and presto – you have the ability to add NFC connectivity to any system, anywhere  for as low as US $0.40. The NFCLink software allows more advanced functionality in systems including, but not limited to, those that run higher level operating systems such as Windows 8, Linux and Android. 

Texas Instruments has the broadest wireless connectivity technology portfolio in the industry. With this broad experience and product base, coupled with continuous innovation, we are well suited to helping our customers realize their IoT vision in the most efficient, robust and cost-effective fashion.

How will ubiquitous device-to-device and device-to-human connectivity improve your latest application or product?