Near-Field Communication (NFC)
At first sight, near-field communication (NFC) is not an RFID system, but a wireless data interface between devices, similar to Infrared or the well-known Bluetooth. However, NFC has several characteristics that are of interest in relation to RFID systems.

Data transmission between two NFC interfaces uses high-frequency magnetic alternating fields in the frequency range of 13.56 MHz. The maximum communication range typical for NFC data transmission is 20 cm because the respective communication counterpart is located in the near-field of the transmitter antenna; therefore the communication is called near-field communication.

the physical principle of data transmission between two NFC interfaces. The NFC interface has a 13.56 MHz transmitter and a 13.56 MHz receiver that are alternately connected to the antenna. The antenna is designed as a large-surface coil or conductor loop.

For communication between two NFC interfaces, the individual NFC interface can take on different functions, i.e. that of an NFC initiator (master device) or an NFC target (slave device). Communication is always started by the NFC initiator. In addition, NFC communication distinguishes between two different operational modes, the active and the passive mode.

Active Mode
In order to transmit data between two NFC interfaces in active mode, at first one of the NFC interfaces activates its transmitter and thus works as the NFC initiator. The high-frequency current that flows in the antenna induces an alternating magnetic field H which spreads around the antenna loop. Part of the induced magnetic field moves through the antenna loop of the other NFC interface which is located close by. Then a voltage U is induced in the antenna loop and can be detected by the receiver of the other NFC interface. If the NFC interface receives signals and the corresponding commands of an NFC initiator, this NFC interface automatically adopts the roll of an NFC target.

For data transmission between the NFC interfaces, the amplitude of the emitted magnetic alternating field is modulated (ASK modulation), similar to the data transmission between RFID reader and transponder. However, the difference between an NFC target in active mode and an RFID transponder consists in that the magnetic alternating field has to supply the transponder with power in order to operate the microchip. As opposed to this, the electronic device containing the NFC interface supplies the interface with power.

The transmission direction is reversed in order to send data from the NFC target to the NFC initiator. This means that the NFC target activates the transmitter and the NFC initiator switches to receiving mode. Both NFC interfaces alternately induce magnetic fields where data is transmitted from transmitter to receiver only.

Passive Mode
In the passive mode, too, the NFC initiator induces a magnetic alternating field for transmitting data to the NFC target. The field’s amplitude is modulated in line with the pulse of the data to be transmitted (ASK modulation). However, after having transmitted a data block, the field is not interrupted, but continues to be emitted in an unmodulated way. The NFC target now is able to transmit data to the NFC initiator by generating a load modulation. The load modulation method is also known from RFID systems.

Using this method for NFC interfaces provides a number of advantages and interesting options for practical operation. Thus the different rˆoles of the two NFC interfaces within the NFC communication can be negotiated and changed, at any time. An NFC interface with weak power supply, e.g. with a low-capacity battery, can negotiate and adopt the rˆole of the NFC target in order to save power by transmitting data via load modulation.

The NFC interface that is the target is also able to establish, in addition to other NFC interfaces, the communication to compatible passive transponders (e.g. according to ISO/IEC 14443) that the NFC target supplies with power and that, via load modulation, can transmit data to the NFC interface. This option enables electronic devices equipped with NFC interfaces, such as NFC mobile phones, to read and write on different transponders such as smart labels or e-tickets. As the NFC interface in this case behaves similar to an RFID reader, this option is also called ‘reader mode’ or ‘reader-emulation mode’.

If an NFC interface is located close to a compatible RFID reader (e.g. according to ISO/IEC 14443), the NFC reader is also able to communicate with a reader. Here, the NFC interface adopts the roll of an NFC target and can transmit data to the reader using load modulation. This option enables RFID readers to exchange data with an electronic device with NFC interface, such as NFC mobile phones. From the reader’s perspective, the electronic device behaves like a contactless smart card; this option is also called ‘card mode’ or ‘card-emulation mode’.