By now, you're probably somewhat familiar with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology. And when you hear the term NFC, the first thing that comes to mind is probably mobile payments.
That's understandable, as NFC and mobile payments have been grouped together by analysts, pundits, researchers and retailers since the short-range wireless technology first started making headlines in the early 2000s. (The first mobile phone with built-in NFC, the Nokia 6131, launched in 2007.)
But the truth is NFC has a lot more to offer than just mobile payments. In fact, it will very likely be years before any sort of NFC-based payment system goes mainstream, according to a new report from technology research firm Forrester Research. Though Forrester predicts 100 million NFC-enabled mobile devices will ship this year, the company says NFC won't reach critical mass, or be used by 15 percent to 25 percent of the global population, for at least three to five years.
"We see NFC as merely a technology enabler for several types of mobile contactless services; we don't believe the majority of consumers will use mobile contactless payments before the end of the decade, even in the most developed countries like Poland and the UK," writes Forrester's Analyst Thomas Husson in the report, entitled "NFC: What Lies Beyond Contactless Payments."
So how exactly will NFC be used in those hundreds of millions of smartphones during the coming years? Here's a look at Forrester's predicted NFC uses along with examples of current, real-world ways that's NFC is already employed by enterprises, governments, academic organizations, marketers, retailers and consumers.
NFC in the Enterprise
NFC is currently being tested by a variety of organizations who want to use smartphones as next-generation access cards, which would be an ideal use of the technology in the enterprise. In fact, in the fall of 2011, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion and HID Global, a provider of secure physical access cards and readers, announced that some of RIM's new BlackBerrys would be equipped with HID Global's iCLASS digital credentials.
The NFC BlackBerry Bold and Curve models are compatible with HID Global's iCLASS readers, which are widely used to enable physical access systems in buildings, as well as serve as student ID readers and track employee time-clock check-ins and attendance.
Employees could also use NFC-enabled smartphones and other devices to access staff parking areas or cafeterias and pay for services, Forrester says. NFC tags could be placed inside meeting or conference rooms, and attendees could tap their compatible devices to silence them or to turn on Wi-Fi, for example.
NFC and Government
NFC also represents countless opportunities for governments to improve public services and enhance transit systems, among other things, Forrester says.
Some cities and urban areas are already using NFC to better serve their citizens and improve quality of life. NFC technology could let bus travelers pay for their commutes to work with their mobile devices. Commuters who drive to work could access parking lots and pay for parking with their smartphones. And city residents could get access to public facilities, such as swimming pools or libraries, with a tap of a tablet.
France's Association Francais Du Sans Contact Mobile (AFSCM), or Association for Mobile Contactless in France, is ahead of the curve when it comes to NFC-based services. And in Europe, France ranks among the top countries based on the number of citizens with NFC-enable phones, according to the group. AFSCM expects 2.5 million French citizens to have NFC devices by the end of 2012. The French "Cityzi" service lets users in certain French locales to quickly scan their handhelds to access train stations and tap their devices against NFC tags placed in a variety of locations to get maps or other information on products or services.
The city of San Francisco currently has some 30,000 NFC-compatible parking meters. And Sydney, Australia is using NFC tags to help guide tourists around one of its most popular landmark districts, The Rocks.