New NFC Forum specs address contactless speed, signal strength

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Near Field Communication got a major boost as a secure payments standard when Apple revealed in 2014 that it would use the technology in its Apple Pay mobile wallet, echoing moves from early mobile wallets such as Google Wallet and Softcard. But NFC has had a few weak spots that the NFC Forum says it addressed this week through four new specifications.

The NFC Forum, the global standards body and advocacy association for the use of NFC, released the specifications to improve communication speed and the ability to use NFC in areas in which "noisy radio environments" might cause interference.

The new specs immediately improve the user experience for more than two billion NFC-enabled devices, such as smartphones, in use today, the association stated.

"We are constantly improving on the global specifications to improve overall user experience for NFC users," Mike McCamon, executive director of the NFC Forum, said in a Wednesday press release. "NFC Forum members take this responsibility very seriously as their decisions impact the majority of smartphone users and many businesses."

Prior to Apple's choice of NFC and the secure element in a smartphone as part of its payment transaction process, the technology was under debate within the payments industry as to whether it was as effective, or as easy to deploy, as a QR code or, eventually, in-app payments. Samsung, for example, hedged in its implementation of NFC by also supporting wireless magstripe payments in Samsung Pay.

In the past year, Apple has introduced its Apple Card, which also uses NFC as its default payment method (the physical card is available upon request).

The card brands embraced NFC in 2012 as part of the EMV chip card migration, giving merchants incentives to add NFC and tokenization capabilities to their terminals at the same time they were preparing to accept chip cards to address a liability shift in 2015.

The NFC Forum's updated specifications include one that addresses the digital protocol for NFC-enabled device communication, adding "error recover" for certain types of NFC communication in environments in which the signals could be disturbed.

Other specifications address the speed in which NFC-enabled devices in reader/writer mode can detect, read and write a data exchange format on NFC Forum tags. The new specs support the forum's previous data exchange protocols.

An "activity technical specification" has been upgraded to version two, and a profiles technical specification has been added, as the Forum said splitting the two would make it easier to do future maintenance on them.

The profiles technical spec explains how the NFC Digital Protocol Specification can be used to set up communication protocol with another NFC device or NFC Forum tag.

The NFC Forum launched in 2014 as a non-profit industry association of mobile communications, semiconductor and consumer electronics companies with a mission to advance use of NFC technology through development of specifications.

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