NFC and Big Data

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless connectivity technology. The key word here is “connectivity”. It is not rocket science; it is similar to WIFI or Bluetooth, the technologies that we are familiar with and widely use. NFC enables devices within short proximity (4 cm) to connect with each other in order to exchange information. It also enables devices to read and write from/to NFC tags in order to retrieve or distribute data.

The term WIFI was used commercially in 2000. I remember that in 2002, I used three long Ethernet cables in order to connect  my home computers to the internet. The next year, I bought a WIFI router and started taking advantage of wireless connectivity. Nowadays, when we go to Starbucks, we connect our laptops to the WIFI network and start browsing the web within seconds. The hardware (wireless adapter) and user interface make the connectivity so easy that we don’t even think of the underlying mechanism.

Bluetooth specifications were developed in 1994 and many products are using the technology now. In the tele-healthcare industry, Bluetooth enabled medical devices provide significant value to the consumer. For example, a patient can take a blood pressure reading with a Bluetooth device at home and a nurse can remotely monitor the readings through a server.

NFC is based on RFID technology. The first RFID patent was granted in 1983. The NFC Forum was established in 2004. In 2006, the first NFC-enabled phone was released by Nokia. Today, most newly released smart phones are NFC enabled; they have an NFC chip inside the phone that communicates with NFC tags or other NFC enabled phones, consumers know very little about this capability because of lacking of education.

With your NFC enabled phone,  you can tap your phone with a new friend’s NFC phone and exchange contact information upon agreement. That’s the simplicity of connectivity. This kind of data exchange will add more data into the Big Data realm.

Big data is a hot topic nowadays. Enterprises want to leverage it in order to serve their customers or to develop customer desired products. Whatever we say, write, connect to or exchange with; structured or unstructured data all are part of the Big Data. With the broad usage of mobile devices, big data can be collected easily with or without our permission. When combined with Cloud computing, Big Data analysis can be performed easily and create tremendous impacts to the businesses.

AWS Summit NYC 2012, Werner Vogel’s keynote shared how a drug designer used computational chemistry algorithms with 21 Million compounds to develop a medication that would treat cancer. A Cloud platform shortened the process time and operational expense while dealing with big data analysis.

NFC, like any other connectivity enabler data traffic, will provide useful information for businesses and provide value for consumers. Any business that is thinking of capturing NFC data will be ahead of the game. I believe when consumers start to adopt NFC, it will become part of our life.

NFC Tag and QR Code

When I explained NFC tag to a friend, he replied, “I got it! It’s like QR code.” Spot-on. The concept is similar to QR code. QR code is popular enough for people to capture the concept. For those who aren’t sure what a QR code is, here is an example:Wikipedia_mobile_en

QR (Quick Response) code was created by a Toyota subsidiary in 1994 to track vehicles during manufacture. It became widely utilized worldwide in the last few years with the popularization of smart phones, which can be used as QR code scanners. For example: Front Flip is a mobile app that can be downloaded to an iPhone or Android phone to scan QR codes. Some restaurants place their QR code by the entrance of their stores. When customers scan it with Front Flip in their phones, they unlock a digital scratch-off card that provides a chance to win a discounted meal. This helps retaining customers. More than 30 such mobile loyalty apps have emerged in recent months [1].

The main difference between a QR code and an NFC tag is that NFC tags can be read by smart phones without an app. Today, most newly released smart phones are NFC enabled; they have an NFC chip inside the phone that communicates with NFC tags.

For example: Starbucks can embed an NFC tag in a poster promoting a new drink. When a customer taps his/her NFC phone to the tag, he/she gets a coupon for a discount. The customer can pass that coupon just by tapping his/her phone with a friend’s NFC phone. These are how NFC functions in open mode.

Cost-wise, the NFC tag is still much more expensive (around a dollar more) than QR code (which only costs pennies). The cost for NFC tags will drop as it becomes more widely adopted over time. Phone manufactures, telecoms, and service providers should educate their consumers about NFC devices in order to speed up the adoption rate.

ABI Research reported 102 million NFC handsets were shipped in 2012; 285M will ship in 2013 and 500M in 2014. NFC tablets and laptops have already been released. Sometimes, I wonder why telecoms can’t figure out how to promote NFC capability to their consumers when it’s so easy to demonstrate the advantage of using it and so many devices are available with the capability.