Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tag, you're (not) it (yet)

Proponents of near field communications want to make NFC the fifth or sixth radio in your phone, and they made a step toward that goal today by launching four tag types. NFC is mainly aimed at automating payments, which means the radios will have to be everywhere we now have debit card swipers and bar code readers.

To make this work there needs to be standards for tags that contain data the NFC devices read. The NFC Forum today essentially blessed four tag types already out in the market as part of a suite of standards that complaint devices need to support. They include tags based on the ISO 14443 Type A and B standards and Sony’s FeliCa. The Forum claims more than one billion of these tags are already deployed worldwide in public transportation, hotel and offices applications.

It's a wise move blessing what's already out there and mandating tomorrow's products need to be able to handle all these tags. That's a step toward interoperability and hopefully will make vendors think twice about launching still other tag types. But there's a world of chip, system, software infrastructure—as well as business services-- that need to be put in place to make this all work and that will take years as my colleague Junko Yoshida noted in a recent story.

When all that work is done, it is really no easier (and no more secure) to waive a radio-laden cellphone than swipe a card. The NFC folks say the technology, which can deliver about 500 Kbits/s of data, will serve other apps like sending pictures from a digital camera to a TV, but there are plenty of other wireless transports aimed at such uses.

In short, the tags are blessed now, but I am not sure the business case has been yet.

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