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Two technologies can be used as checkpoints in conjunction with smartphone apps to track staff and assets. One of these is Bluetooth Low Energy, the other is NFC.

What is NFC?

Near Field Communication or NFC is one of many different types of RFID technology, and as such, is not considered to be a separate, or newer technology. Instead, NFC is a communication standard for RFID developed specifically for incorporating RFID technology into mobile phones.

The NFC standards were first set out in 2004, by the NFC Forum, a consortium formed by Nokia, Sony and Philips. Since this time, further adjustments have been made to the NFC standards. As with all new ideas, it has taken time for the standard to be fully adopted by the telecommunications industry. As a result, many phones, particularly older and less expensive phone, do not incorporate the chip and are not NFC enabled.

How Does NFC Work?

Inside an NFC checkpoint can be found a memory chip with a small amount of storage which is attached to an antenna. The memory chip is activated using inductive coupling. Basically, this works in the following way.

  • NFC enabled smartphone is held near the NFC checkpoint and a user selects to read the checkpoint.
  • The phone generates an electromagnetic field which then generates a current in the checkpoint antenna through a phenomenon called induction.
  • This powers the chip which sends a short signal, with information such as an ID number to the phone via the antenna.

Because the NFC checkpoint is powered by the phone, it does not need a battery and can be fully enclosed in a durable casing.

To be able to read an NFC checkpoint, a smartphone needs to both have an NFC chip embedded into the phone and an NFC reading app installed. Users activate the checkpoint read through the app on the phone.

NFC signals are transmitted at a frequency of 13.56 MHz, which is different from the more commonly used frequency used by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. As a result, signal interference and disruption are much less of an issue.

Are There Different Types of NFC Tags?

Currently there are 5 different types of NFC tags available, which offer different data capacities and transfer rates depending on the required use. Some are read-only, while others are capable of being re-written. All of these features affect both the size and cost of the tags.

NFC tags used for checkpoints in staff tracking systems tend to be smaller and read-only and are therefore very cost effective.

What Are Some of the Uses For NFC?

The increasing adoption of NFC chips in the latest smartphones has resulted in a range of uses for NFC tags, particularly in situations where only a quick exchange of a small amount of digitised information is required. One of the most common is credit card tap and payment. Other uses include ticketing, airline boarding passes, and the tracking of staff or assets.

The Good and the Bad of NFC Checkpoints

NFC is much the same as RFID with the added bonus of being usable with smartphone apps. This can make a system using NFC a relatively cheap option as you can get your staff to use their own phones, as long as they have an NFC enabled phone.

The downside with staff using their own phone is the potential distraction from completing work tasks. This problem can be reduced by using a company supplied phone, but this will add to the cost. Mobile phones are also not as durable as purpose-built hardware and are also subject to updates of the operating system.

Comparing NFC with Bluetooth LE, which can also be used with smartphones, NFC works at significantly shorter range, shorter even than most other RFID. This means that NFC is a contactless technology but must still be swiped at close range. This is an advantage in situations where the time and location of staff members need to be accurately determined. NFC checkpoints also work well in small rooms such as toilets where Bluetooth signals can leak between rooms.

The other big advantage NFC has over Bluetooth LE is that NFC checkpoints don’t actively send out signals and therefore don’t need batteries, are relatively simple to make, thus cheaper, and can be fully encased making them more durable and weatherproof.

Summing Up

NFC tags are the cheap and versatile checkpoints for staff verification and tracking mobile phone apps, as they can be used both indoors and outside. Well-designed tags can be placed on any surface including metal, making them suitable to be placed on walls, doors or inside items like bins.

If you are using a smartphone-based staff attendance tracking system, there a plenty of good reasons to use NFC checkpoints. Want to find out more contact our sales team today.