Franz Amtmann, et al. and Philippe Maugars, et al.

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology

Technical field
NXP B.v, Sony
Wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and LTE have transformed mobile phones well beyond their telephony roots to becoming veritable mini-computers. Now our pocket-sized telephones are taking on another role as virtual pocketbooks, allowing for quick purchases without the hassle of cash or credit cards. Paving the way in the field is a technology known as Near Field Communications (NFC), which was co-invented by teams of engineers at NXP Semiconductors and Sony in 2002.

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The secure, contactless communication provided by NFC is not only simplifying purchases, but also makes it possible to buy train or bus tickets while boarding, share photos and contacts with others easily, and clear an airplane boarding pass with a flick of the wrist.

A team of electrical engineers at multinational manufacturer NXP Semiconductors, a spin-off of Dutch electronics giant Philips, has been instrumental in making the technology commercially viable. Their work is playing a critical role as mobile devices and other NFC-enabled data carriers such as smartcards evolve to enable people to interact securely with the world around.

Societal benefit

Before NFC, little technical attention had been placed on interaction between cell phone users and their immediate environment. In fact, mobile devices frequently functioned as a distraction from the environment, whether on a boring train ride or in a long queue at the supermarket.

NFC technology helps re-engage users with the world around them and simplify the interaction between their smart phone ̶ or other NFC-enabled device ̶ and their environs. Examples of how NFC has been implemented include: interactive displays at museums, unlocking doors, and NFC touch points at universities to aid non-native language speakers.

While carrying a wallet or pocketbook might not yet be obsolete, NFC is helping to take over some of their functions and offers a convenient back-up. You can use NFC to share electronic business cards with others, provide your health insurance information to a doctor, and of course make purchases at an estimated 500,000 locations, which is continuing to grow.

Economic benefit

NFC technology generated total revenues of € 863.78 million (US$ 1.07 billion) in 2012, and the market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 43.7% until 2019.

There were already 300 million NFC-equipped devices shipped in 2014. This number is expected to top half a billion by the end of 2015.

While its use in mobile payment systems often steals the headlines, especially since the recent inclusion of NFC technology within the latest Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models, it can also be used in many other ways. For example, NFC may be used to secure access to specific areas of a building; enable or disable device functionality when entering a meeting; distribute marketing messages to devices when their owners enter a store; and to share documents and data between users.

How it works

NFC relies on a phenomenon known as electromagnetic induction. It is the almost magical property of alternating current electricity allowing it to jump from one circuit to another. An NFC reader emits a small electric current that creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field is used to carry a signal (and electrical power) between the reader and a passive ‘tag’. When the magnetic field of the reader comes into contact with a passive tag, some of the electrical energy contained in the magnetic wave is used by the passive tag to encode a response.

The NFC circuit patented by Amtmann and his team enables passive response technology, for tags that don’t have their own power sources, such as credit cards and beacons, and also allows for communication between two powered devices.

The NFC secure connection method patented by Maugars works by detecting the power levels of the energy sources required to complete an NFC-based transaction. If either energy source is insufficient for an NFC connection to be established, the NFC signal itself is used to generate enough charge in one of the devices to enable the transaction to be completed.

The inventors

Franz Amtmann led a team of engineers that helped design the contactless communication technology at NFC’s core. Amtmann earned an electrical engineering degree with honours at the Graz University of Technology. He joined the Austrian company Mikron in 1991, which specialized in contactless smartcard and RF identification systems. Mikron was acquired by Philips in 1995. Amtmann is involved in more than 50 patents or patent filings dealing with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

Philippe Maugars and Patrice Gamand patented a method for ensuring a secure connection within an NFC circuit. Maguars, a trained mathematician and former university maths professor, joined Philips in 1983. Over his thirty-year career, Maugars’ work has spanned fields ranging from smart card readers to solid state lighting and cellular communications systems. He is inventor or co-inventor on more than 25 patents. In 2013, Maugars started his own company that cooperates closely with NXP Semiconductors.

Did you know?

NFC evolved from a mixture of existing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and other electronic interconnection technologies. Initially, its complex origins meant that NFC lacked the standardisation necessary to make it commercially viable. That’s why in 2004, NXP Semiconductors, Sony and former cell phone manufacturer Nokia created the NFC Forum, an industry body made up of NFC vendors and businesses keen on utilising the technology. Many other common computer and connectivity technologies, such as USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, are industry standards, ensuring interoperability between products and easing product development for manufacturers.


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