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26 August 2010

Near Field Communication article

This week's Micro Mart magazine published my Near Field Communication feature article in issue 1121 (see the Sample PDFs page).

The four page article describes what NFC technology is all about, investigates how it will affect our personal computing devices, and discusses the big money potential of NFC-enabled mobile commerce and advertising.

Here are a few extracts:

At its heart NFC is another form of digital radio transmission, similar to the now familiar wi-fi transmissions, differing mainly in its lower data transmission speed, low power and, in particular, very short range. NFC's high frequency radio signal is able to transmit and received simultaneously, operating at the same 13.56Mhz frequency as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

This compatibility with the RFID standard results in quite modest data transmission rates of up to 100 kbytes per second. With a typical range of only a few centimetres, it's often referred to as a contactless technology, or the rather more fun sounding 'bump' interaction. When considering these characteristics it's clear NFC isn't trying to compete with our existing longer range, higher-capacity wireless technology, so what does it bring to the wireless party? Well, the key features are a variety of operational modes, very short transmission range implications, and low costs.

Despite the ever growing list of wi-fi enabled devices, installation and configuration remains a troublesome and complex process. For instance, having bought your brand new wireless printer it seems counter-intuitive to have to plug in the USB cable part way through installation, only to remove it shortly after.

With an NFC-enabled wireless printer, the essential handshaking information can be transferred simply by placing an NFC-enabled laptop next to it - a completely wireless installation solution. In similar fashion a hotel or café wi-fi connection could be configured in seconds by presentation of a credit card sized NFC tag to your NFC-enabled laptop, removing any manual setup steps. Obviously this technique could be extended to a multitude of other wireless devices, including a wide variety of PC peripherals, mobile phones, personal music players, portable games consoles and remote game controllers.

Combine contactless behaviour, credit/debit card emulation and data encryption with user confirmation, and you have a recipe for a new breed of wireless commerce transactions and applications, internationally applicable, with a potential measured in billions.

Although traditional PIN style transaction confirmation may be the norm, compared with the rapid, contactless operation entering a PIN code may seem like a rather tedious activity. By incorporating one of the increasingly common bio-security sensors into devices, such as a fingerprint scanner, you have an equally rapid confirmation process - and of course you don't have to remember all those PIN numbers.

Online commerce can be simplified too. With a virtual credit/debit card stack held on the USB stick, or an adjacently placed NFC-enabled smartphone, Internet users can perform secure online payments without entering their card details into a web page. Not only a far simpler and quicker process, but less prone to spyware and other security threats.

The same issue contained a letter, sent in response to comments in the editor's column in issue 1119, commenting on the high levels of interest in Microsoft's Kinect launch. As I covered Kinect, using the (better sounding?) Natal project name, in my issue 1108 Human Computer Interface Evolution feature article, I naturally felt obliged to comment.

12 August 2010

WebUser Magazine Security Letter

Web User magazine issue 246 published my letter suggesting web browsers should display bold, clear indications of secure site status. 

I suggested web users confidence in e-commerce activies would increase and malicious web page redirection would be easier to spot.