What is an NFC tag?

Animated SVG image of a typical Near Field Communication (NFC) Integrated Circuit

Today’s post won’t be an exhaustive study of the technology but what follows does provide an articulate  introduction to Near Field Communication (NFC) tags. I actually do that on this page that gets into the nitty gritty of NFC.

As a design-builder of new or existing inanimate things I transform such things into wireless communiction devices by means of integrating NFC into or onto the inanimate things.

Doing so enables people to use their mobile phone to (((tap)))® onto the thing and instantaneously engage in one of a variety of supported functions the mobile device will fetch and launch from the WWW by means of using the cellular network.

Picture of supported options that can be encoded to the memory of a Near Field Communication tag (NFC)
Supported options that can be encoded into the memory of a Near Field Communication tag (NFC)

So what’s a good use case? How about an NFC sticker embedded into the water filter cartridge in your modern-era refridgerator-freezer that makes ice for you? Using your cellphone to (((tap))) will enable you to reorder and have a new filter delivered to you. Nobody likes a warm cocktail. So how’s that for instant gratification?

When speaking with folks I generally prefer to refer to NFC tags as electronic stickers that being a metaphor that avoids technical jargon.

People just seem to get it right away. Technically speaking NFC tags are a type of Integrated Circuit (IC.)

When I engage in conversation using technical terms it often generates a blank stare and sometimes I fall into it myself. Don’t we all feel a tad uncomfortable when we’re not really a part of the conversation hecause we don’t understand the gist of the subject matter?

Because a picture really can be worth 1,000 words we’ll use a picture of an electronic sticker to illustrate some fundamentals…

Picture of Near Field Communiction (NFC) tag
Typical NFC Integrated Circuit

NFC tags I refer to as electronic stickers are unpowered and are considered “passive tags.”

When an NFC-enabled cellphone is used to make a tapping gesture near or upon the sticker electromagnetic energy is eminated from that powered device, the antenna becomes energized transferring power to the chip which functions as a controller to allow reading, writing and authorized erasing encoded data which is stored in the memory of the chip set.

By specification, when data is written to the memory the data may be “locked” which makes the data permanently read-only making the use of electronic stickers a 100% secure means to store data. Instaed of locking a password can also be used to enable changing the data on demand.

The data payload is not that large, typically at this point in time the maximum size of a payload is 800 bytes depending on what type of tag is acquired from the semiconductor manufacturers who manufacture different types that must comply with official specifications. Typically, they are manufactured in round, square or rectangular form factors.

Even though the payload is not that large a lot of functionality can be accomplished as the  picture above depicts.

Factually, NFC is a  technology derived from Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

The acronym RFID refers to a small electronic integrated circuit that consists of a small chip, memory and an antenna just like NFC; the difference being RFID works spatially over reasonably long distances such as within a warehouse while NFC is “near” for a reason and can only be interacted with by being powered by the mobile device which must be held within an inch or so of the sticker.

By the way, being “near” has the advantage of improving security making it nearly impossible for others to scan and read what may be encoded in the memory of the chipset.

No App. Just (((tap)))®