RFID is the abbreviation of Radio Frequency IDentification and describes the process by which items are uniquely identified using radio waves.
NFC is the abbreviation of Near Field Communication. This is a specialized subset within the family of RFID technology. Specifically, NFC is a branch of High-Frequency (HF) RFID, and both operate at the 13.56 MHz frequency.
NFC is designed to be a secure form of data exchange. An NFC device is capable of being both an NFC reader and an NFC tag. This unique feature allows NFC devices to communicate peer-to-peer.
NFC allows you to share small payloads of data
- between an NFC tag and an Android-powered device
- between two Android-powered devices with built-in NFC-technology
NFC tags are passive devices, meaning that they operate without a power supply of their own and draw power from the device that reads them.
When a reader, such as an NFC-enabled smartphone, gets within 2 cm of an NFC tag, it uses magnetic induction to energise the NFC tag and read the information stored within.
The maximum reading distance of 2 cm sounds like a disadvantage at first glance but in reality is a big advantage.
- Security guard system
- in case an NFC Tag is mounted to a door to be checked by a security guard, the short reading distance ensures that the security guard must be close to the door / NFC tag to confirm the check
- Payment systems
- the short reading distance reduces the chances of payment information such as a PIN code being intercepted during the payment process over the air
Thanks to their simplicity, NFC tags are extremely small and low-cost, meaning they can be incorporated into a large number of different form factors, for example:
- water-proof stickers
- plastic discs (often with a hole in the middle for affixing with screw)
- credit card form factor
- nails (can be hammered into trees, pallets etc. for identifying those)
- wrist bands with NFC
- key chain fobs
- cattle ear tags
- small glass capsules to be injected into pets
- finger rings
- and many more
NFC use cases
Due to the outstanding usefulness of the NFC technology more than 80% of the ginstr app users use an app which supports NFC. Therefore, this is one of the most important technologies for ginstr app users currently available in modern smartphones.
Most of the ginstr app users use NFC technology for identifying something:
- rooms in the cleaning industry
- residents in the home healthcare industry
- power meters in the facility management industry
- checkpoints in the security industry
- racks in the rack jobbing / merchandising industry
- devices and plants in the industrial maintenance management business
- plants and pots in the plant rental business
- vending machines / construction machines etc. in the machine rental business
- attachments to construction machines or small construction machines in the construction business
- parcels, pets, crime scene evidence material and other mobile objects
- and many more
You can mount an NFC tag to a fixed place like a wall, a window, a door, a desk, a rack, etc. NFC tags exist that can be glued, screwed, nailed, injected into pets, magnetically attached etc. Then you can assign some location information to each NFC tag. This will allow you each time one of your employees reads an NFC tag to know in real time at which location this employee currently is (e.g. a safety guard while patrolling).
This location information can then be used for various purposes like
- ensuring and controlling process adherence
- estimating remaining work to be done
- reading location specific information from the ginstr cloud
- storing location specific information to the ginstr cloud
Storage of data
This provides additional options that can be used
- to improve your workflows
- to improve the data quality and quality of information
- to improve offline data-processing possibilities
This allows for example:
- to load a public transportation card like the London Oyster card with a certain amount of money which can then be used for various trip purchases.
- to store some maintenance information or master data on the NFC tag so no internet connection is required for retrieving the data assigned to an NFC tag.
The downside of storing data on NFC tags is that you need physical access to the NFC tag for updating that information and for reading it. Therefore, in most use cases we recommend not to store any information on the NFC tags but instead to store the data in the cloud and then to assign the information stored in the database to the NFC tag. This also means that you can use cheaper NFC tags because no non-volatile memory is required on the NFC tags for storing such data.
Chain of custody
The NFC tags are still too expensive to use them in one-way applications except use cases with items of high monetary value involved like evidence material.
Example of such a closed-loop chain-of custody:
- A scaffolding component gets equipped with an NFC tag.
- Currently this scaffolding component is sitting in the warehouse and the warehouse manager has confirmed its presence and is responsible for its presence in the warehouse.
- Now a truck driver picks up the scaffolding component, reads the attached NFC tag, signs to confirm that he is now responsible for this scaffolding component and loads it on to his truck.
- Now the truck driver transports the scaffolding component to a construction site and unloads it. On receipt of the component, the construction site manager signs to confirm that he is now responsible for the component.
- After the completion of the construction work, the truck driver returns to the construction site, loads the scaffolding component and signs to confirm that he is now responsible for it.
- The truck driver then transports the component to the warehouse and hands it over to the warehouse manager who signs to confirm that he has received the component back and is now responsible for it.
With such a process, a named person is responsible for the component at any time. This improves traceability and reduces the chances of lost components.
Apple has not yet implemented NFC functionality into their mobile devices except for usage in conjunction with their payment system Apple Pay. This means that NFC technology is not available for iPhone or iPad users.
This is one of the important reasons why ginstr has decided not to support Apple mobile devices at present.
The internet is full with suppliers of NFC tags providing a large number of form factors.
Unfortunately not all NFC tags are working as expected:
- they might fail working with some Smartphone models
- they might not be durable because of poor quality materials
- the glue of the stickers might not be durable
- they might not work when mounted on metallic surface
- it might be hard to read them because of a poor antenna
Therefore we recommend to consult with ginstr before buying NFC tags in order to avoid such problems.
NFC vs. QR codes & barcodes
The use of NFC is dependent on a device which is NFC-enabled, whereas barcodes and QR codes can be used by any smartphone with a camera and a code-reading app.
However, NFC does offer the following advantages:
- Unique ID
- Each NFC tag has a worldwide unique ID which can be used to identify each individual item whereas barcodes and QR codes are typically used to identify groups of items, for example all Coke bottles in a cart, making the payment process seamless at the checkout.
- NFC tags allow updating stored information
- NFC tags can be used to store different types of information and can be easily reprogrammed with new information. On the other side barcodes and QR codes cannot be changed without replacing them and barcodes cannot store any additional information beyond the ID number at all, for QR codes the amount of information that can be stored inside the QR code is very limited.
- Ease of use
- With NFC technology, the user simply places the Smartphone near to the NFC tag and the information is transferred instantly.
There is no requirement to open a scanner app, align the display, switch on the flashlight or wait for the device to analyse and react to the code.
- It is impossible to copy an NFC tag or to modify its unique ID. In combination with NFC's short-range and encryption support, any doubt that for example an employee has checked-in at a specific location is removed, whereas a QR code or barcode can be easily replicated and tampered with.
- Many different form factors
- NFC tags are available in many different form factors for the different use cases, whereas QR codes and barcodes are in most cases printed on paper. Therefore, NFC tags amongst others can be resistant against water, chemicals, heat, cold, mechanical encroachment etc.
- Readable even if hidden from view
- NFC tags can be hidden inside walls, under a table, inside clothing, inside paper, inside plastic bags etc so by default it is not obvious that an NFC tag is present. With QR codes and barcodes there is always a need of a line of sight in order for the Smartphone camera to read the codes.
Adding text content to an NFC tag
By default, each NFC tag has a unique serial number which can be used for identification. However, it is also possible to add a custom text string to be used to identify items, employees or locations with ginstr Plus© apps.
- If text content is written to an NFC tag which is used for a ginstr Plus© app, this text content must be entered as the NFC tag id instead of the serial number of the NFC tag.
- If no text content is written to an NFC tag which is used for a ginstr Plus© app, the serial number of the NFC tag should be entered as the NFC tag id.
There are many free Android apps which can be used with an NFC-enabled smartphone in order to write text content to NFC tags. In the example below, Easy NFC Writer is used to write the text 'Room 101' to an NFC tag.First, find Easy NFC Writer in the Google Play Store and tap the button. Once the installation is complete, tap the button to launch the application.
On the Easy NFC Writer menu screen, select the Insert text option.On the following Text screen, insert the text you wish to write to the tag in the text entry field and tap the button at the top-right of the screen.
On the following Write Tag screen, tap your smartphone against the NFC tag you wish to write the text to.
A SUCCESS window will appear to confirm that the text has been written to the NFC tag.