NFC Tags

What are NFC tags ?

NFC (near field communication) is a wireless technology which allows for the transfer of data such as text or numbers between two NFC enabled devices. NFC tags, for example stickers or wristbands, contain small microchips with little aerials which can store a small amount of information for transfer to another NFC device, such as a mobile phone.

What information can you store ?

There's a whole set of different data types you can store on an NFC tag. The actual amount of data varies depending on the type of NFC tag used - different tags have different memory capacities. For example, you may choose to store a URL (web address) or a telephone number. A standard 'Ultralight' chip NFC tag can store a URL of around 41 characters, whereas the newer NTAG213 chip nfc tag can store a URL of around 132 characters.

Usually, this information is stored in a specific data format (NDEF - NFC data exchange format) so that it can be reliably read by most devices and mobile phones.

What are NFC tags used for ?

Generally, you can mark this into three areas - asset management, marketing and personal use. Generally, for personal use, there are other ways to control your phone which are more useful than using NFC. Marketing hasn't taken off yet, mainly because Apple phones still don't support the reading of NFC tags. Asset management is the most signficant area and NFC tags are being used in everything from healthcare (where the person is the asset!) to counterfeit prevention systems.

Could someone change my NFC tag ?

NFC tags can be locked so that once data has been written, it cannot be altered. For most tags this is a one way process so once the tag is locked it cannot be unlocked. Encoding and locking are two separate actions. NFC tags can be re-encoded numerous times until they are locked.

How can I encode NFC tags ?

The easiest way at the moment is to use an Android NFC enabled mobile phone. Just download a simple, free and safe App called 'TagWriter' which is made by NXP - the same people who make the majority of NFC chips. You can be encoding your tags in minutes.

Which phones support NFC ?

Right now, almost all mobile smart phones support NFC and the vast majority exluding Apple's iPhone can both read and encode tags. NFC.Today suggest that you use an Android still for encoding tags but there's some good Apps available now on the Windows phone. We run a list of NFC enabled phones.

What else can I do with NFC tags ?

Like the number of NFC enabled phones, the number of NFC Apps is growing quickly. For example, you can already download Apps which will allow you to encode tags to turn your phone's wifi or bluetooth on or off - or open your favourite weather page. Encode a tag for your office desk and just tap it to change all your phone settings. There's also an increasing number of application Apps which, for example, will allow businesses to manage assets.

Is the NFC tag technology different than mobile payment tech ?

A lot of the press you see about NFC will be about mobile payments. It's the same technology but whereas we are talking here about using NFC to transfer a web address or simple data, NFC payments are a lot more complicated and involve a mobile wallet on your phone and all sorts of other things. Most of the momentum with NFC is with mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay.

Will NFC tags replace QR Codes ?

That's a big question and we think that the answer is probably not.

We generally feel that QR Codes and NFC tags sit alongside each other and both have their advantages and disadvantages. It's generally considered that the user experience with NFC tags is generally better and in the instances where the additional cost of using an NFC tag is less relevant to the overall cost (for example on a wristband, brochures or posters), it makes sense.

However, QR Codes don't require the user to be so physically close, are free to print and are able to be read by most current smartphones (albeit with a suitable app) so for marketing and similar use cases, they are clearly a better choice.

What batteries do they take ?

That's the clever thing about NFC tags. They don't require batteries. They get their power from just being near a powered NFC device, for example a mobile phone.

How close do you have to be to the tag ?

The answer of course depends on your phone and the tag itself, but generally you need to be within a couple of centimetres (an inch).