An NFC-enabled smartphone should also be able to read RFID tags? Hardly conceivable because until recently, there was a clear technological separation between classic RFID with its three variants (LF, HF, and UHF) and contactless data transmission via NFC: The maximum distance between two communication partners that must not be surpassed. Whereas, for RFID, this distance is greater than 10 cm, for NFC, the components must almost touch for data exchange. However, the idea of smartphones being able to read the huge number of RFID tags out there stimulated the NFC Forum to define their own NFC standards for this purpose, both for the protocol (NFC-V) and for the tags (Tag Type 5).
A smartphone's NFC interface has been designed to interact with its close proximity. In order to make the contact as easy as possible and still secure, the maximum distance of below 10 cm is deliberately very small. This minimizes the danger of triggering communication not wanted by the smartphone user. It only takes a few seconds touch to pay at a point of sale, to open a rental car or a hotel room. Due to this very small operating distance, this type of communication is called "proximity" communication. It is based on the ISO/IEC 14443 standard.
There are three frequency bands for the operation of RFID systems: low frequency, high frequency, and ultra high frequency. The RFID systems used in the different frequency bands differ with respect to their operating distance, the transmission rate, and interference liability. This results in very different use cases. RFID is the most used identification procedure in warehousing, ware tracking, and freight logistics. The operating distance is defined as vicinity range, and thus significantly above that of NFC. RFID technology is specified by ISO/IEC 15693.
The signal specifications on which RFID and NFC are based are very similar. Especially the RFID technology that radios on the same carrier frequency as NFC (13.56 MHz) is so close to the NFC standard that both can be implemented on the same hardware. Thus, an NFC-enabled device does not need a new or a second contactless interface in order to be RFID-enabled.
Nevertheless, NFC-V is a kind of hybrid technology: The V stands for vicinity and highlights the fact that an NFC interface can now be used to read RFID components that were originally dimensioned for greater distances. Therefore, NFC-V is not based on ISO/IEC 14443, but on ISO/IEC 15693, the underlying standard of RFID. However, in order to avoid the integration of a new antenna for distances > 10 cm, the operating distance of NFC-V has been reduced to the typical NFC proximity distance of < 10 cm.
In order for RFID readers and NFC-enabled smartphones to communicate with the same tag, the NFC Forum defined a new class of NFC tags. So-called NFC Type 5 tags can be modified by a smartphone as long as it is in close proximity to the tag. Then, the same tag can be read by any commercial HF-RFID scanner. Manufacturers, shipping companies, retailers and consumers may get read or even write access to the tag. This opens up new options for handling of goods on their way from manufacturer to end consumer:
This intelligent connection of two neighboring contactless communication systems ultimately turns NFC into a strong promoter of the Internet of Things. Now, it is exciting to see which innovative ideas will result from the implementation and usage of the IoT.
Lower power requirements of type 5 tags enable smaller NFC antennas and a wider range of use cases like ware tracking or fraud protection.
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