If you’ve seen stickers at your gas station or grocery store windows that offer to let you “pay with your phone,” you’ve discovered the next generation of payment technology: Near Field Communication, or NFC. The prospect goes both ways: it could be more convenient to lose the wallet and simply carry your phone, but it carries a lot of risks as well. Either way, it’s gaining traction. So what is it?
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the old standards, are two ways of communicating wirelessly between electronics. They operate on radio frequencies and allow for a significant amount of distance between the connected devices. Near Field Communication, however, uses radio fields which require for the two devices to be close to each other – 4 inches or less.
NFC’s advantages over the other two standards however is that it takes less power (which extends your battery) and the close proximity required reduces the likelihood that someone will interfere with the signal. And whereas the others require manual pairing, NFC works automatically when devices are next to each other.
Those who are pushing NFC argue that there are benefits beyond just being able to pay. If you’ve ever seen Samsung’s Galaxy S III ads, you’ve seen the scenes where the two characters transfer a picture from one to another. That’s NFC. It’s easy to make quick transfers via NFC.
And while some call it a “mobile wallet” technology, it really might as well be a mobile purse. You can use it to pay for things as well as store bus passes, concert tickets, loyalty cards, or even hotel room keys or office buildings. Many point-of-use venues aren’t set up for the technology yet, but if it gains steam, this could be an expansive new technology.
It’s an appealing image to be able to use one device for everything, but many are concerned about the safety risks of having everything stored on one gadget. I’ve lost my phone before and can’t imagine what would have happened if there was more sensitive information like that of my bank account. However, with increased use comes increased mindfulness and using it more would facilitate more safety measures.
In the end, is it really wise to consolidate every aspect of your life on your phone? It is true that phone security is increasing and the likelihood of someone gaining secure information is slim. It may even be slimmer than having your credit card stolen.
Should you get started with a service like Google Wallet to store credit cards and the like? Maybe. I like the idea of not having to dig out my PetSmart card to get money off dog food, but more retailers need to adopt this service in order for it to be feasible for most of us. It’s worth looking into if you keep seeing more and more of those stickers popping up.