NFC / RFID Fundamentals

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a set of short-range wireless connectivity technologies that are ideal for transmitting small amounts of information with minimal setup time and power consumption. NFC enables simple and safe two-way (point-to-point) interactions between electronic devices by bringing them into a distance of within typically a few millimeters. NFC applications include contactless transactions, data exchange and simplified setup of more complex technologies such as WLAN.

NFC is based on inductive coupling between two loop antennas, operates in the globally available and unlicensed ISM band of 13.56 MHz and supports data rates of 106 kbit/s, 212 kbit/s and 424 kbit/s.

NFC communications protocols and data exchange formats are based on existing RFID standards as outlined in ISO/IEC 18092:

  • NFC-A based on ISO/IEC 14443A
  • NFC-B based on ISO/IEC 14443B
  • NFC-F based on FeliCa JIS X6319-4

This makes NFC devices compatible with existing passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags and contactless smart cards in line with the ISO 18000-3 air interface.

NFC point-to-point communications always require an initiator and a target. For active communications between two powered NFC devices, the initiator and target alternately generate their own fields. In passive communications mode, a passive target such as a tag draws its operating power from the RF field actively provided by the initiator, for example an NFC reader. In this mode an NFC target can take very simple form factors, such as a sticker, because no battery is required.

NFC-enabled devices support three operating modes:

Reader/writer: Compliant with the ISO 14443 and FeliCa specifications, the NFC device is capable of reading a tag (an unpowered NFC chip) integrated, for example, in a smart poster, sticker or key fob.

Peer-to-peer: Based on the ISO/IEC 18092 specification, two self-powered NFC devices can exchange data such as virtual business cards or digital photos, or share WLAN link setup parameters.

Card emulation: Stored data can be read by an NFC reader, enabling contactless payments and ticketing within the existing infrastructure.

As the number of available NFC-enabled mobile phones and tablets increases, the market will see a growth in applications such as mobile payments, ticketing, smart posters, as well as access control, data sharing and additional services.

NFC devices must conform to the NFC Forum’s published specifications in order to ensure interoperability. These specifications define important RF measurements for NFC devices in active polling mode and in passive listening mode, which require a signal generator to generate the polling commands and listener responses, and an analyzer to measure the waveforms from the NFC device under test. Also needed are an NFC reference polling device and an NFC reference listening device, acting as initiator and target, respectively, for the device under test.

To meet the needs of NFC test engineers, Rohde & Schwarz offers fast, easy-to-use and accurate test solutions that are in line with the NFC Analog specification.

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