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Near field communications gets nearer

New specs edge NFC standard towards reality

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The Near Field Communication (NFC) Forum today published the four data-exchange formats of its burgeoning short-range radio standard, intended to turn a mobile phone into a wallet, a set of keys, and a handful of credit cards.

But while the technical standard is rapidly coming together, the business model remains a mystery.

NFC is a standard based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) which allows devices within a few centimetres of each other to communicate: think Bluetooth, but shorter range and much easier to use.

The NFC Forum, which includes Nokia, Visa, MasterCard and everyone else you would expect, foresees a day when you make purchases in shops, pay for travel tickets, pick up information from posters, and even unlock your house using your mobile phone.

The four specifications cover formats for transferring generic data, records, plain text, and URIs, and their publication will enable companies to start building compatible NFC-enabled devices. Once those are available it should be possible to create some of the interesting applications the standard desperately needs.

At the moment, NFC is largely the preserve of banks and handset manufacturers, but it will need to demonstrate how network operators can make money out of it to progress beyond trials and cool demonstrations. ®

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