NFC Tags and NFC Readers: Advantages and Disadvantages of NFC Tags, NFC Stickers and NFC Chips

Gunel Ismayilova

Apr 22, 2024

8 min read

NFC tags

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NFC stands for Near Field Communication which enables short-range wireless communication between two electronic devices, typically within a distance of 4 cm (1.57 inches) or less. NFC works on the principle of short-range wireless communication, requiring devices to be within approximately 4 centimeters of each other for a connection to be established.

NFC tags are commonly used in contactless payments, access control and security, product authentication, information sharing, public transportation, entertainment and gaming, and smart homes.

NFC became popular in the 2000s, following its introduction in 2004. NFC (Near Field Communication) tags and QR codes are technologies used for information exchange, but they operate on different mechanisms with distinct characteristics.

The advantages of NFC tags include enabling contactless communication over short distances, ease of use through simple tapping for quick data transfer, versatility in performing various tasks, security features for data protection, widespread compatibility with modern devices, and offline functionality, allowing for interactions in areas with limited connectivity.

NFC tag disadvantages include a short operating range suitable for close proximity, dependency on device compatibility, limited storage capacity, implementation cost for large-scale usage, low data transfer speed (400 Kbit/s), and limited multitasking capabilities focused on one-to-one communication.

What is an NFC Tag?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication which enables short-range wireless communication between two electronic devices, typically within a distance of 4 cm (1.57 inches) or less. An NFC tag is a small physical object that contains an integrated circuit (IC) and an antenna. The NFC tags store and transmit information to other NFC-enabled devices when they come into close proximity. NFC tags are passive devices that don't require a power source. The NFC tags draw power from the electromagnetic field generated by an active NFC device, such as a smartphone.

NFC tags are embedded in various objects, stickers, or cards and programmed with specific information. An NFC reader, like a smartphone, reads the data stored on an NFC tag and initiates predefined actions. The information on NFC tags includes website URLs, contact information, or commands for the device to perform specific actions, such as opening an app or connecting to a Wi-Fi network.

Operating at a frequency of 13.56 megahertz and built on RFID principles, NFC finds applications in contactless payments, data transfer between devices, access control systems, and smart posters. Users are able to simply tap smartphones or cards near NFC-enabled terminals with NFC's quick and secure transaction capabilities. The NFC tag supports seamless data exchange between devices, making it convenient for sharing information. Its versatility extends to access control, public transportation smart cards, and interactive elements in smart posters, showcasing NFC's diverse range of applications in modern connectivity.

How Does NFC Work?

NFC works on the principle of short-range wireless communication, requiring devices to be within approximately 4 centimeters of each other for a connection to be established. The process begins with activating the NFC capability in one device, which generates an electromagnetic field through its antenna. The second device responds by inducing an alternating current in its antenna through electromagnetic inductive coupling in close proximity. The mechanism enables power transfer and initiates data exchange between the two devices. NFC follows specific communication protocols, supporting passive and active modes, with data rates ranging from 106 to 848 kbit/s.

NFC incorporates various components, including NFC chips, NFC stickers, and tags. NFC chips are integrated circuits embedded in devices or objects that store information and activate communication when prompted by an NFC tag reader. NFC stickers, physical items embedded with NFC chips, are programmed with specific data, triggering predefined actions when read by an NFC-enabled device. NFC tags, small objects containing an NFC chip and an antenna, are used for access control and information-sharing applications.

NFC tag readers, present in devices like smartphones or dedicated readers, play a crucial role. The devices read information from NFC tags or NFC stickers by generating an electromagnetic field to power passive NFC tags. The seamless interaction between NFC-enabled devices distinguishes NFC from alternatives like QR codes. QR codes store more information, but NFC allows two-way communication, allowing devices to interact faster and more securely.

Where is NFC Tags Commonly Used?

Listed below are the use cases of the NFC tags.

  • Contactless Payments: NFC tags are widely used in contactless payment systems, enabling mobile payments (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay). The tags enable users to transact by tapping their NFC-enabled devices, such as smartphones or cards, on payment terminals.
  • Access Control and Security: NFC tags serve as keycards or access tokens in secure environments. NFCs are employed in office buildings, hotels, and other facilities to grant authorized personnel access to specific areas.
  • Product Authentication: NFC tags are used for product authentication and anti-counterfeiting in retail. Consumers verify the authenticity of a product by tapping the device on an NFC tag embedded in the product.
  • Information Sharing: NFC tags are utilized for quick information sharing. For instance, a business card with an embedded NFC tag instantly transfers contact details to a recipient's smartphone when tapped.
  • Public Transportation: NFC technology is commonly used in public transportation systems. Commuters access buses, trains, or subway systems using NFC-enabled cards or smartphones.
  • Entertainment and Gaming: NFC tags play a role in the entertainment and gaming industry. For instance, NFC technology enhances user interactions with video games like Skylanders and Nintendo's Amiibo.
  • Smart Homes: NFC tags are applied in smart home scenarios to control smart lights, adjust thermostat settings, or configure Wi-Fi networks.

When was NFC Become Popular?

NFC became popular in the 2000s, following its introduction in 2004. The NFC Forum, a collaboration between Nokia and Sony, was pivotal in promoting and standardizing the technology. The invention of NFC is attributed to a collaborative effort between Nokia and Sony, who aimed to establish a wireless communication protocol focusing on short-range interactions.

The primary purpose of inventing NFC was to create a seamless and efficient method for short-range communication between electronic devices. Initially, the technology emerged as an evolution of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, which had been used since 1983 for tracking products in stores through tags. The NFC Forum, established in 2004, further facilitated the adoption and standardization of NFC, paving the way for its integration into various applications.

NFC became a prominent technology for contactless payments, data exchange, and device connections as it gained traction. NFC's convenience, security features, and versatility contributed to its widespread adoption, making it a popular choice for various industries, including finance, retail, and telecommunications.

How are NFC Tags compared to QR Codes in terms of mechanism?

NFC (Near Field Communication) tags and QR codes are technologies used for information exchange, but they operate on different mechanisms with distinct characteristics.

A significant difference between NFC tags and QR codes lies in the range and proximity required for communication. NFC operates within a close proximity range, making it suitable for short-distance interactions, whereas QR codes are scanned from a distance, offering greater flexibility in terms of range. NFC supports two-way communication, allowing for dynamic interactions between devices, while QR codes are read-only, providing information without actively engaging in a dialogue.

NFC tags generally have a lower data capacity compared to QR codes, which store more extensive information, making QR codes suitable for applications requiring complex data sets. NFC is often employed in various applications such as contactless payments, smart posters, and device pairing, showcasing its versatility. QR codes are widely used in marketing, ticketing, and information-sharing applications.

NFC and QR codes serve the common purpose of bridging the physical and digital worlds and enhancing user experiences in diverse applications across different industries. The choice between NFC and QR codes depends on the specific requirements of the application and the desired user interaction. 

What are the advantages of NFC Tags?

Advantages and Disadvantages of NFC Tags

The advantages of NFC tags are listed below.

  • Contactless Communication: NFC tags enable contactless communication between devices. They operate over short distances, typically within a few centimeters, making them ideal for quick and convenient data transfer.
  • Ease of Use: NFC tags are easy to use. Users simply tap the NFC-enabled device (such as a smartphone) on an NFC tag to initiate a connection or retrieve information. The simplicity contributes to a user-friendly experience.
  • Versatility: NFC tags are programmed to perform a wide range of tasks. For example, the tags store contact information, launch specific apps, open URLs, or configure device settings. The versatility makes NFC tags suitable for various applications, from marketing to automation.
  • Security: NFC technology includes security features that help protect data during communication. The short-range nature of NFC reduces the risk of unauthorized interception compared to technologies with longer communication ranges.
  • Compatibility: NFC is a widely adopted standard, and most modern smartphones and tablets have NFC capabilities. This high level of compatibility ensures that a large user base interacts with NFC tags without the need for additional hardware.
  • Offline Functionality: NFC tags are read and programmed without an active internet connection. The offline functionality of NFC tags is beneficial for applications in areas with limited connectivity or when quick and direct interactions are required.

What are the disadvantages of NFC Tags?

The disadvantages of NFC tags are listed below.

  • Short Range: NFC operates over a concise range (4cm and less). It is advantageous for security reasons but limits the application to situations where close proximity is feasible. The short-range distance limits the practical applications to scenarios where close proximity is feasible, although it is advantageous for security reasons.
  • Dependency on Device Compatibility: NFC functionality depends on devices having compatible hardware. Modern smartphones and tablets are NFC-enabled, but not all devices support this technology, making it less universally accessible.
  • Limited Storage Capacity: NFC tags have limited storage capacity compared to other technologies. The NFC is suitable for applications requiring large amounts of data storage.
  • Cost of Implementation: NFC tags are relatively inexpensive, but implementing NFC technology in certain systems or infrastructures is expensive. It is especially true for large-scale deployments.
  • Limited Data Transfer Speed: NFC has a relatively low data transfer speed(400 Kbit/s) compared to wireless communication technologies like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Lower data transfer speed makes it less suitable for large data transfers.
  • Limited Multitasking: NFC is primarily designed for one-to-one communication, limiting its multitasking capabilities. Other technologies like Bluetooth are more suitable in scenarios where multiple interactions or connections are required simultaneously.

How do Businesses use NFC Technology?

Listed below are some ways businesses use NFC technology.

  • Mobile Payments: Businesses integrate NFC into payment systems, allowing customers to make transactions by tapping the NFC-enabled mobile devices or payment cards on compatible terminals. It facilitates quick and convenient transactions.
  • Access Control and Security: NFC is commonly used for business access control systems. Employees use NFC-enabled access cards or smartphones to gain entry to secure areas, enhancing security measures.
  • Event Management: NFC-enabled badges or wristbands are used at events and conferences for attendee identification, access control, and cashless payments. It streamlines event management and enhances the overall attendee experience.
  • Inventory Management: NFC tags are attached to products or assets, allowing businesses to track and manage inventory more efficiently. It is particularly useful in retail, logistics, and supply chain management.
  • Transportation and Ticketing: NFC technology is commonly used for contactless ticketing and transportation systems. Users tap NFC-enabled cards or devices to access public transportation, parking facilities, or events.
  • Healthcare Applications: NFC technology is used in healthcare for patient identification, access control to secure areas, and tracking medical equipment. It helps streamline processes and improve the overall efficiency of healthcare facilities.
  • Education: NFC technology is used in educational settings for tasks such as student identification, attendance tracking, and access control to specific areas within a campus.
  • Free Wi-Fi Access: Enhancing the customer experience, NFC tags are programmed to provide free in-store Wi-Fi access. Customers simply wave mobile devices over strategically placed tags, gaining internet access without the need for a password. It improves customer satisfaction and encourages longer stays in the store.

How is the Range of NFC?

The range of NFC is generally about 0 to 5 cm. NFC range is limited to no more than 20 cm. It's essential to note that this distance varies depending on factors such as the specific NFC devices in use, the power output of the devices, and the environmental conditions.

The range of NFC (Near Field Communication) is intentionally limited to ensure secure and reliable communication in close proximity. The close range is designed to prevent unintended or unauthorized access to data, providing a higher level of security for NFC-enabled transactions and interactions. However, it means that devices must be brought close together for communication to occur. The proximity ensures that users initiate NFC interactions intentionally, minimizing the risk of unintentional data exchange.

It's important to note that NFC is unsuitable for long-range communication or data transfer applications. Other technologies, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, are more appropriate if longer-range communication is required. NFC's design and limitations make it well-suited for specific use cases where secure, short-range communication is desired, such as mobile payments, smart card transactions, and quick data sharing between devices in close proximity.

Are All Mobile Devices Capable of Using NFC Tags?

No, Not all mobile devices are capable of using NFC tags. Mobile devices with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology are increasingly common, but not all support it. The presence of NFC capability depends on the device's hardware and specifications. High-end and mid-range smartphones are more likely to include NFC functionality, while some budget or older devices lack the NFC feature.

Review the device’s technical specifications in the product documentation or check the settings menu to see if the device supports NFC. Most devices that support NFC have an NFC symbol or label on the device itself, indicating its compatibility. The absence of NFC capability on some devices limits the ability to interact with NFC tags, preventing users from enjoying functionalities such as contactless payments, data transfer, or accessing information embedded in NFC tags. NFC adoption is increasing as technology advances, but users must verify their device's specifications for NFC compatibility.

How to Set Up an NFC Tag for Payments

To set up an NFC Tag for payments, follow the provided steps.

  1. Ensure NFC is Enabled. Go to the phone settings and ensure that NFC is enabled. The setting is usually found in the "Connections" or "Wireless & Networks" section.
  2. Download the Mobile Payment App. Download and install a mobile payment app or wallet supporting NFC payments. Popular options include Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay.
  3. Set Up Payment Method. Open the mobile payment app and follow the on-screen instructions to add a payment method, such as linking a credit or debit card to the app.
  4. Locate the NFC tag. Decide where to place NFC tags on a desk, near a cash register, or on a product display.
  5. Program the NFC tag. Use an NFC tag programming app that is easy to find on the app store (Android and iOS devices have various NFC programming apps available). Follow the app's instructions to program the NFC tag.
  6. Configure the NFC tag to trigger a payment action. It involves associating the tag with a specific payment card or action within the mobile payment app.
  7. Test the NFC tag. Test the setup by tapping your smartphone with NFC enabled against the programmed NFC tag. Ensure that it prompts the desired payment action within the mobile payment app.
  8. Secure the NFC tag. Secure the NFC tag to prevent unauthorized access. Some programming apps allow a set of security options for the tag.
  9. Inform users. Provide clear instructions or signage indicating that users make payments by tapping their NFC-enabled smartphones on the tag.

Can NFC Tags be Fraud?

Yes, NFC tags can be susceptible to fraud. NFC (Near Field Communication) tags, despite the convenience and various applications, are not immune to fraudulent activities. One potential avenue for fraud involves the unauthorized rewriting or cloning of NFC tags. NFC tags are manipulated or replaced by hackers if security measures are inadequate. It leads to unintended consequences, such as misinformation, unauthorized access, or the execution of malicious commands. The security of NFC tags depends heavily on implementing protective measures, even though NFC technology itself is not inherently fraudulent. Employing encryption, authentication protocols, and regular security updates is crucial to prevent NFC tag fraud. Users and organizations must remain vigilant and adopt best practices to ensure the integrity and reliability of NFC-based systems and applications.

Is NFC Better than RFID?NFC vs RFID

Yes, NFC is better than traditional RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) for certain applications and is considered a type of RFID. NFC operates within the RFID frequency range, specifically in the HF (High-Frequency) range. The primary advantage of NFC over traditional RFID lies in its communication range and data transfer capabilities. NFC has a shorter range, typically up to a few centimeters, which enhances security and privacy compared to the longer-range capabilities of some RFID technologies. RFID systems with longer ranges have a potential for eavesdropping or unauthorized information reading. NFC generally offers faster data transfer rates than traditional RFID, making it suitable for applications where quick data exchange is essential, such as mobile payments. NFC is user-friendly and easy to use. Devices equipped with NFC establish a connection quickly and efficiently, making it convenient for applications like mobile payments, access control, and information sharing.

What is the Difference Between NFC and RFID?

The difference between NFC and RDIF lies in communication ranges, applications, and additional capabilities. NFC (Near Field Communication) and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) are closely related technologies with distinct differences. NFC operates within the RFID frequency range, specifically in the HF (High-Frequency) range, and typically has a short communication range of up to 20 centimeters. RFID encompasses a broader range of frequencies, including LF (Low Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency), and its communication range extends from a few centimeters to 100 meters. NFC and RFID share fundamental principles. The technologies involve wireless communication using radio-frequency signals and consist of two main components: a reader (or interrogator) and a tag (or transponder). The reader emits radio waves to power and retrieve data from the tag. The basic architecture is common to both NFC and RFID systems.

Another key difference is the intended use and application of each technology. NFC has gained prominence in consumer-oriented applications, whereas RFID has been used for various applications, including asset tracking, supply chain management, and access control. NFC is commonly used for contactless payments, mobile device pairing, and data exchange between devices in close proximity. NFC offers additional capabilities not always present in traditional RFID systems. NFC supports passive and active communication modes, allowing for more versatile interactions. The passive mode is often used for simple data transfer and identification, while the active mode enables more complex operations, such as device-to-device communication.

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