NFC: Not a One-Trick Pony

10/6/2011

NFC. You’ve heard a lot about near-field communication recently thanks to the release of Google Wallet, as well as other NFC mobile-payment systems such Isis. But this technology is not limited to retail and POS (point-of-sale) solutions. In fact, the NFC trend may end up impacting verticals as wide and varied as healthcare and smart energy.

According to ABI Research, www.abiresearch.com, 16% of mobile subscribers in the U.S. and in Western Europe will use NFC mobile payments by 2014. The firm suggests NFC is not just a “hype-driven phenomenon;” it will become adopted by the mainstream mass market within the next five years.

The technology, which provides wireless two-way communication between a mobile phone and devices such as payment terminals, identification readers, or other mobile phones, is most commonly associated with the concept of a “mobile wallet.” The use of NFC for contactless payments that replace physical credit and loyalty cards is beginning to gain steam in the consumer marketplace.


Meanwhile it is also being integrated into other types of solutions. This week, Meridian Health, www.meridianhealth.com, a leading nonprofit healthcare organization, and iMPak Health, www.impakhealth.com, announced an NFC-enabled mobile-health solution: SleepTrak. The sleep-monitoring solution will be deployed on T-Mobile’s, www.t-mobile.com, 4G network.

SleepTrak leverages near-field communication technology embedded in T-Mobile’s Nokia Astound devices, in combination with a “SleepTrak” card—a wireless device worn on your upper arm that collects data about sleep patterns and then transmits the data to your mobile phone via NFC—and the free SleepTrak application.

The solution represents a larger trend of emerging mobile healthcare that helps to link healthcare professionals with patients and their clinical data regardless of physical location. NFC technology is at the forefront of this trend.

Another vertical market, smart metering, is also jumping onboard the NFC train. At Metering Europe 2011, which is taking place this week in Amsterdam, two companies—NXP, www.nxp.com, and, Landis+Gyr, www.landisgyr.eu—are showcasing a smart meter equipped with NFC technology.

NFC will allow utilities and consumers to read and access smart-meter data in realtime using their smartphones. The companies say the demonstration shows how an NFC handset can be used to visualize current and past energy consumption based on data stored in the meter through a mobile app.

The technology will allow maintenance technicians to download data to connected devices such as smartphones or tablets, and even perform firmware updates to smart meters. NFC in the metering and utilities space may eventually be used for convenient prepayment of electric and other utility bills.

The so-called NFC ecosystem is growing, and it’s not just thanks to Google Wallet and other POS/mobile-payment solutions. As more industries begin to realize the value, security, and convenience offered by M2M (machine-to-machine) technology such as near-field communication, it will continue to establish itself in new and previously uncharted territories.




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