Is NFC (Near Field Communication) Dead?

Editorial note: This article appeared in Linkedin on December 7th, 2016

I recently had coffee with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while. We chatted about our lives and work. He told me about the Internet of Thing (IOT) product he is marketing, and asked what I was up to. When I told him I was working on the 3rd edition of my “Everyday NFC” book, his next question astounded me: “Isn’t  NFC dead?” Surprised, I looked at him and reassured him it was not, and that I was committed to publishing my book soon. Part of my urgency in doing so is to correct such misunderstandings.

My friend is not alone in his assumption. Even in the technology field, many are clueless about NFC’s many applications in IoT and beyond. Not only is NFC alive, it is a widely used enabler that connects objects to  the Internet. IoT doesn’t exist without smart sensors. As Business Insider pointed out in their article entitled  21 technology tipping points we will reach by 2030 , “1 trillion sensors will be connected to the internet in 2022.” NFC will play a critical role in this process.

What is NFC? NFC is based on RFID technology. It is a technology that enables wireless data transfer in close proximity without the need for internet connection. NFC sensors can be integrated into devices and wearable in many fields. NFC Forum was established in 2004 and leads the effort for the unification of the NFC ecosystem. More than 140 companies are members of the NFC Forum.

NFC Forum has been promoting the relationship of NFC and IoT: “With 38.5 billion connected devices expected by 2020 and over one billion NFC-enabled devices already in the market, NFC is playing a key role in making the Internet of Things a working reality.”

Not only does NFC enable IoT, it plays an essential role in Industry 4.0 (Industry internet) to facilitate connectivity in smart factory manufacturing. The low cost of NFC tags can help identify items, tracking them, and even reflect on their conditions.  For example, the wine industry is using NFC tags to authenticate wine bottles in order to exercise brand protection.

The possibilities of NFC are endless; it is quite alive and thriving!

Three Things That Business Leaders Should Know About Industry 4.0

Editorial note: This article appeared in Forbes on November 1st, 2016

As a business leader, you can’t afford not to know about Industry 4.0 (defined by McKinsey as “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector”), which will transform manufacturing in a way that impacts profit margin significantly for your business.

While not many people understand or have even heard of the term outside of manufacturing, many business leaders have heard about IoT (Internet of Things). What will happen when IoT becomes fully integrated with other emerging technology, such as big data and autonomous robots? Can you imagine the impact on the world? That’s just one of the questions posed by this new phase.

There are three things that you should know about Industry 4.0: what it is, what the impact is, and what challenges it faces.

What Is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 was an initiative started by the German government in 2006. It has also been called the “industry internet” or “the fourth industrial revolution.” The initiative’s intention is to digitize the manufacturing sector in order to increase productivity. German industry will have invested a total of €40 billion in Industry 4.0 by 2020.

The vision of Industry 4.0 has been adopted worldwide and is influencing other initiatives and cooperative efforts. In general, there are nine key technological components that make up the foundation of Industry 4.0: autonomous robots, big data, augmented reality (AR), additive manufacturing, cloud computing, cyber security, IoT, system integration, and simulation.

Through the interoperability of IoT, computation, networking, and physical processes are integrated as cyber-physical systems (CPS) that cooperate with each other and with human beings in real time. As a result, manufacturers are transforming into “smart factory operators” who manage highly automated, connected equipment, and analyze data provided by the systems.

What Is The Impact Of Industry 4.0?

• New business opportunities. These are created for many vertical markets, such as retail, medical, industrial, automotive and telecommunication industries. According to The Economist, many companies have initiated the effort to digitize factories, such as Siemens, BASF, Bosch, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Klöckner & Co., and Trumpf. The products they make are increasingly packed with sensors and connected to the internet in order to provide better products and services for their customers.

• A more efficient value chain: When the system is well integrated, equipment can be run by automated processes. The cost of manufacturing will be decreased and the quality will be better. The impact is on the whole value chain of delivering products to the market. When the value chain is impacted positively, the margin will be impacted accordingly and create a competitive advantage for a company.

• Data-driven strategy and business models: Sensors in CPS and cloud computing enable data collection and analysis in real time. Therefore, issues can be detected and resolved in a timely manner and the product lifecycle can be streamlined based on insights from big data analysis. Also, insights that reflect real-time operations are available for decision makers. Therefore, strategy and business models can be modified quickly to increase revenue.

• A rising need for skills-based training and talents: Specific skills are required to work in a smart factory. The skills will impact education choices and societal structure when traditional labor is being replaced.

Industry 4.0 Challenges:

• Reliability and stability: Since IoT standards are being established, it is a challenge to have a reliable and stable non-proprietary solution for machine to machine (M2M).

• Security: When objects are connected without sufficient security precautions, the system is vulnerable. For example, in 2015, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after security researchers found that they could remotely disengage both the brakes and the transmission of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee. This is a challenge of IoT.

• Long-term commitment and development: It takes industry commitment to work on standards and protocols in order to have interoperable solutions developed. The financial investments might impact the effort of long-term development for some companies.

• Skilled labor: German demand for engineers outruns supply right now. This is an example when disruptive innovation happens, a skilled workforce will be difficult to locate.

Only time will tell how smoothly the transition into Industry 4.0 will be for the world of business as we know it. As business leaders, we can stay adaptable by staying aware, informed and prepared.

 

Is Proprietary IoT Lock-in Unavoidable?

Editorial note: This article appeared in Linkedin on August 1st, 2016

I attended the Wearable / IoT Techcon in July. There were many good speakers who presented to an eager audience. My learning at this event can be summed up with two points: 1. IoT is vulnerable and 2. IoT lacks standards.

IoT (Internet of Things) has become a buzz term in the last few years. IoT refers to a connected network of physical objects including devices, vehicles, buildings, appliances, electronics, and more. In the world of IoT, objects can exchange information, initiate activities, or activate processes. The connectivity provides convenience, integration, and intelligence.

However, this exciting IoT world is vulnerable. Not only can hackers take control of your connected car, but also your smart home system, your digital wallet, or even your pace maker! For example in 2015, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after two security researchers demonstrated that they could remotely disengage the brakes and transmission of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Another example of wearable vulnerability was given by IBM speaker, Chris Poulin, that malware came from Fitbit’s Bluetooth infected your laptop though device synchronization. Such challenges are why IoT security was identified as the top one technology for 2017 & 2018 by Gartner.

Given the risks, one can see why security is a critical consideration in IoT and wearables. Chris recommended www.ibm.com/security/xforce as a resource for eliminating IoT security risks and suggested the following strategic steps that businesses should take to mitigate threats:

  • Conduct an asset inventory
  • Update security policies to include IoT devices
  • Familiarize yourself with non IT connected devices

In addition to security, another fundamental problem is that IoT standards are being too slowly established. Many proprietary systems are in the market that will make interoperability difficult.

What is the current state of IoT standards? After researching on IoT standard bodies, Terry Hughes posted an article in April 2016  “Will industry muscle win in the IoT standards war?”. He concluded that, “There are many standards bodies, many competing initiatives, yet no universal IoT standards today,” and, “As we have seen in mobile, the race to standardization takes up to 20 years, and in the meantime IoT represents a huge market opportunity for technology companies to fill the standards vacuum.”

In my research, oneM2M seems to be the one standards body that is developing a comprehensive end to end IoT standards.  Many IoT products have their own protocols and APIs to connect smart devices and systems while standards are being formed. Given this environment, it would be shrewd for users and businesses to think twice about the price being paid with proprietary solutions.

My biggest question right now is “Is proprietary IoT solution lock-in unavoidable and what the impact it creates?” I would love to hear your thoughts.

NFC in Action in IoT World

KBNFCNear field Communication (NFC) is a technology similar to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). At the same time, it’s a powerful enabler. The nature of proximity connectivity realizes the potential of an Internet of Things (IoT). Khushi Baby is one example of the impact such products can make on the world.

Traditionally, haala khaago black thread is worn by Indian children for protecting them from the evil eye. The Khushi baby (KB) necklace is designed based on this tradition. However, the KB is also embedded with an NFC chip that can be scanned by health care providers with a mobile app in a cell phone to obtain the wearer’s immunization record. What is the significance of this technological addition that costs less than a dollar?

Over 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable disease each year. In under-developed countries, especially in isolated rural areas, a major barrier to healthcare and immunization provision is tracking health records.  With KB, a child’s data is synced to a cloud database and can be transformed into insights to be acted upon.  Currently, thousands of children are benefitting from simple and inexpensive this innovation.

Another example of NFC in action is the adoption by chip makers. Texas Instruments (TI) is marketing a new NFC-enabled transponder targeted at automotive infotainment apps. The RF430CL330H-Q1 is an NFC Tag Type 4 device that combines a wireless NFC interface and a wired SPI or I2C interface to connect the device to a host.  With a tap, the NFC interface enables end equipment to communicate with the infrastructure of NFC-enabled smart phones, tablets, and notebooks. It’s a path to IoT.

NFC will continue to serve as a powerful contributor to the IoT world. Vision and innovation will be the main driving force.  From rural healthcare to transportation and more, continued creativity and development will unlock worlds of potential for the future.

NFC in 2013

NFC had a good run in 2013. Every month, we heard exciting news about NFC products or trials being launched. These launches have extended far beyond the “mobile payment” category to include product/service marketing, toys, games, furniture, printing, utilities, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, quality control, inventory management, service automation, and more.

ABI research pointed out that smartphones will continue to account for the majority of NFC shipments in 2013 as volumes jump by 129%. However, from 2014 onwards, computing products, peripherals and automotive will have greater adoption of NFC, and consequently, smartphones will decline from a peak of 80% of all NFC device shipments in 2013 to less than 60% in 2017.

NFC and other connectivity enablers are greatly expanding an “Internet of Things (IoT)”. It’s obvious that we are becoming increasingly connected through wireless technology, and M2M communication is on its rise. A good example is that Google and Apple are about to expand their battle to a new front: the automobile. This was reported by the WSJ a couple of days ago.

Big data is a buzz word nowadays. NFC, RFID, QR Code, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are all types of sensors that contribute to the big data scenario. Big data analytics are going to produce valuable information about consumers and merchandise. It’s also going to change the retail store shopping and mobile phone experience.

One of the usages of NFC is mobile payment. Recently, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile launched ISIS – NFC mobile payment using a SIM-based secure element that manages payment credentials. It will take a while before the consumer market adopts this technology since NFC is not yet a familiar technology, and mobile payment is not a yet a common practice.

In addition, a different approach to implement mobile wallet emerged. Google Wallet led the way to adopt the Host Card Emulation (HCE) approach in order to implement NFC secure app independently from telecom’s control of SIMs. Tim Horton’s, a North American coffee chain, has also launched an NFC mobile payment service using HCE at 3,500 locations in Canada and 800 in the United States. It will be interesting to watch the battle between various NFC mobile payment implementations and adoptions.

2014 should be an exciting year as NFC products and services continue to grow in availability and usage.