What NFC Means For IoT – IoT For All

23 minutes, 49 seconds Read

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In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Mike McCamon, Executive Director of the NFC Forum, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss what NFC means for IoT. Mike talks about the NFC Forum’s mission to make NFC technology work seamlessly with mobile phones and wearables. He gives insights into the different modes of NFC and how they enhance user experiences. He also discusses emerging use cases in car keys and digital product passports, NFC’s role in power harvesting and sustainability, and the NFC Forum’s future plans to extend NFC range and capabilities.

About Mike McCamon

Mike McCamon is a seasoned technology executive with over 30 years of experience in the tech industry. He is currently Executive Director of NFC Forum, an industry association dedicated to advancing NFC standards and use cases. He has been both the inaugural executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group and part of the executive team that launched Water.org. He also led high-growth teams at Apple, Iomega, Intel, and several startups.

Interested in connecting with Mike? Reach out on LinkedIn!

About NFC Forum

NFC Forum, established in 2004, is a non-profit industry association comprised of leading mobile communications, semiconductor, and consumer electronics companies, including Apple, Google, Huawei, Identiv, Infineon, NXP, Qualcomm, Sony, and STMicroelectronics. Its mission is to advance the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability, and educating the market about NFC technology. NFC Forum’s global member companies share skills, technical expertise and industry knowledge to develop specifications and protocols for interoperable data exchange, device-independent service delivery, and device capability. NFC Forum’s supporting certification program and user marks enhance and promote a consistent, reliable, seamless and secure NFC user experience.

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(00:10) Introduction to Mike McCamon and NFC Forum

(00:58) Matt Damon connection

(01:25) Understanding the NFC Forum and its role

(03:25) What is NFC?

(06:43) Applications of NFC technology in IoT

(09:39) Future impact of NFC in IoT

(12:58) NFC and sustainability in IoT

(16:38) NFC Forum’s future roadmap

(19:37) Learn more about NFC Forum


Transcript:

– [Ryan] Welcome Mike to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.

– [Mike] Great to be here, Ryan. Nice to meet you. 

– [Ryan] Very excited to have this conversation. And prior to jumping into some of our questions here, I wanted to have you give a quick introduction about yourself and the organization to our audience.

– [Mike] My name is Mike McCamon, and I’m the Executive Director of the NFC Forum. I’ve been in the tech sector most of my career, and the pinnacle of that was, I don’t know, gosh, 20 years ago when I left Intel to go run the Bluetooth Special Interest Group as their first executive director. So I’ve been in the tech sector. I’ve worked at Apple, Intel, a bunch of other startups. I’ve led trade groups in the technology space. Also worked at a nonprofit for six years, helped people get safe water and rumbled around the developing world with Matt Damon. Ran for public office, how about that? Retired. And now I’m back trying to figure out how to make NFC as relevant as it should be for a variety of different markets, including IoT.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. You mentioned Matt Damon and so. 

– [Mike] Sorry to distract you. 

– [Ryan] My mind immediately went to his cameo in Entourage many years back, where I believe he was like, he was talking about doing a movie, but I think he was like on site for a, one of, something to do with the organization for water. Like he was in a remote area working on it. And I don’t know why, but that’s where my mind immediately went to when you said Matt Damon and water. So speaking of the NFC forum, what’s the overall kind of goal, mission there as far as, obviously we’ve talked about NFC technologies in the past on the podcast, but what’s the organization set up to do and what role does it play?

– [Mike] Near Field Communications, there are a lot of organizations that kind of shepherd that technology along. You have the RAIN Alliance, you have ISO, a lot of different groups that have RFID based technologies. Our specific remit is really to look at how that ecosystem works with mobile handsets and wearables.

So if you look at our board, it’s Apple, Google, and a lot of Silicon players that are in that ecosystem and a lot of integrators in that space. And our goal is to figure out how to make this work very well with the mobile phone. So for instance, when you do tap to pay, contactless payment, that’s, a lot of that actually is governed by the domain of EMV Co, which is a trade group that kind of manages the whole payment ecosystem for payment suppliers. And our little bit of that puzzle is that as, is the phone interface that basically allows you to tap your phone, and that ecosystem thinks it’s a card. So we have a mode in NFC called card emulation mode. So when I tap my watch, the terminal thinks I’m just tapping a card. So we’re acting like a card.

But NFC, we actually defined a couple other modes of operation. One’s called reader writer mode. That’s how you can write to a tag or read a tag. Like when you tap on it, get a URL, like we use QR codes for. And there’s a whole lot of work we’re doing in that ecosystem too, which we can talk about later if you want.

And then the third one is around wireless power. When you think of using NFC, particularly in reader writer mode, when you want to read a tag or write a tag, what you’re actually doing is you’re harvesting power from the phone as your listeners I’m sure are very well aware of. And what we’re looking at doing is how we can extend that to other use cases. And that’ll be one of the topics we’ll talk about today is how we’re looking to extend that to be able to support a lot of different IoT use cases.

– [Ryan] I’m sure there’s a small section of our audience that when we’re talking about NFC, doesn’t necessarily know exactly what we’re talking about, so can you just talk about what that technology is, just generally speaking, so that people can connect the dots because obviously when you said you use your phone to pay, okay, that’s a good obviously example, but just try to sum it up for everybody.

– [Mike] Near field communications is basically a radio based communications at very short distances that are characterized by power harvest. The power harvesting is another piece of that core features of the technology. So having worked on Wi-Fi, having worked at Bluetooth, I’ve been the executive director there, those technologies are very long range by comparison. NFC connections, we test out to five millimeters. For Americans, it’s about a half an inch, or maybe even a quarter inch. It’s a very short distance. I always find it funny when people talk about how oh, someone’s going to steal my credit cards. I’m like, like from my wallet. I’m like, you have to be really close to make that happen. You almost have to sit on it. It would be how you’d have to almost do that if you had a wallet. But anyway, so it’s very short distance. And the other piece of this is power harvesting. So NFC technology is also in your credit card. We don’t define those standards. That’s done by other groups. But again, there’s no battery. And that’s one of the things that’s really great about the technology, is you can harvest power from a polling source or a terminal, for instance. So when you take your credit card out of your wallet and you set it close to the payment terminal, the payment terminal is sending power wirelessly to the card to light that chip up, to read the information and send that data back over a very fast connection. But generally speaking, RFID and NFC technologies are for very small amounts of data to be transferred and where security is a really big importance because you have this example of the distance. I will, just let me real quickly add one interesting metaphor. To give you a sense of like how small the distance is. Like when you take your credit card out, and you’re doing your payment terminal I know that all of us have had the experience where you have to fish around trying to figure out where’s the payment terminal supposed to, where’s the hot spot basically for that? And that’s because finding the hotspot on a credit card, by the way, is basically the same problem mathematically in terms of size as standing out on a football pitch and trying to connect to another Bluetooth device. Like it’s, the range of Bluetooth is 10 meters and the pitch is quite large. But NFC form is a very small range and even a credit card is actually quite large considering our range. So the great news is, and I’m sorry I’m rambling on here, but the great news is that as we begin to see more and more people using their mobile handsets and their mobile wearables for making like contactless payment, most of these devices have a feature called active mode modulation, where actually it will actually vary the power to make that connection work a lot better.

So when I use my phone, it typically is, it needs to be less precise when I’m doing a contactless payment than if I am using my credit card because my credit card I have to be really precise where it is because there’s not anything, there’s no intelligence in the card. It’s really being entirely dependent upon the payment terminal. So that’s a very long story, but that’s where we fit into the whole ecosystem. 

– [Ryan] So as we think about the applications of NFC technology, wireless charging, things like that to the impact that it’s having and will have on the IoT space, can you talk to that at a high level where you see the benefits for IoT?

– [Mike] I think the very first place I would start if I was a supplier or product manager in the IoT space, I would first ask myself the question how might, if I were to integrate NFC into my product, how might it change you know my product. How does it disrupt how my product, my feature set and how I can, how can I stand out in the marketplace with these new features?

One of the things we’ve seen happen is that a lot of companies have really only focused on using NFC for provisioning. And we always get this criticism all the time, I can put a QR code on the device so I can do that first provisioning, so why would I need NFC? I’m like, you haven’t rethought what you might be able to do with this. Okay, so if you had any IoT device that would regularly interact with a mobile phone, you probably should be looking at NFC because you’d be able to use NFC in every one of those use cases. Every time I use the device, I don’t have to turn on my camera, align them, I literally just go up and tap on it and be able to re, again, rethink that.

We’ve seen a lot of really interesting products where people have integrated NFC chips to basically use the screen on the phone as the primary UX. So now I don’t need to put a screen on the device. I’ll think of thermostats as a great example. You think of a Nest, it’s quite, it’s got a very high bill of materials because you’ve got a screen and you’ve got an internet connection, you’ve got all that stuff. If I just take my phone and tap on the thing, I could do all my UI on my phone, and then when I’m done doing my thermostats, I could then tap to set it, and then this, by the way, could then send the information to the cloud because it’s got an internet connection already. So I’d be able to really reduce the bill of materials for an IoT device if I really considered that.

And then the last one, which we think is really exciting, is to use the power harvesting feature. So we are beginning to see people start to develop products that don’t even have a battery in them at all because the idea is that I could actually just hold my phone within close proximity for a few seconds and harvest up to one watt of power already today to be able to power the device. And so one of the classic examples of that product is there’s a company that’s called The Padlock. So imagine a padlock, A, you’re going to IoT enable it. I got to put a battery, I’ve got to, there’s all kinds of things you have to put into the build materials to make that work. Instead, why don’t you just go ahead and put NFC in it, and then now I can just walk up with my phone, hold it there for two or three seconds, give it enough power to light up the board, authenticate that I’m actually the right person, and unlock it. And then when I pull my phone away, the battery, the power goes away, and then it goes back into a stale state of no power. So again, it’s really an opportunity for people to rethink the features of how people might interact and use IoT devices is what’s so exciting. 

– [Ryan] Are there areas that maybe that we’re not seeing NFC being used that you feel will have a big impact on the IoT space in the coming months to years?

– [Mike] We’ve seen some very early implementations of the technology but not broad scale adoption. So one great example is, and I know most people don’t think of this as an IoT device, but car keys. The digital key effort that the Car Connectivity Consortium and us are working on basically allows you to use your mobile phone as a key to get into your car and also to authorize start of the car.

And there’s only a half a dozen or so companies that have actually implemented that. But we expect this to be a fairly mainstream feature, very much like the way we saw Bluetooth come online 23 years ago or whatever it was. You could basically buy two brands of cars that have Bluetooth to be able to do like the, to take your phone calls, basically, and it took three or four years before the industry really figured it out and implemented it in all the products. And so where I see the biggest change is just more companies taking these pilots and some of these early implementations and making them more mainstream. And I really think that the place where I’m most excited about also is in the access control marketplace. Every door lock, I have found that, it’s a very interesting question to ask yourself. We have a mental model for how a door lock is supposed to work in an IoT use case, or I should say an IoT door lock is supposed to work in an access control use case. It’s going to be on the Internet, which means a company has to build software to manage all that information. They have to have a security department to make sure that cloud is never compromised because now all of a sudden I can get into your house and that’s pretty scary if you think about it. I’ve got to put disposable batteries that I throw away every couple of years, which creates a really big environmental impact. There’s a lot of things we have to do to make that door lock work based upon our preconceived design concepts. But if I start a fresh and say to myself, wait a second, I’ve got my keys in my phone because I already got a digital wallet. So if that’s the case, so then, I can use my phone to manage those digital keys. I can send them to people. I can share them. I can let them, I can do all of that just within my, I don’t have to even go build an app, my own custom app to manage all that, I could just use the phone and the digital wallet for that use case. And then I can relook at the the lock and say, okay, it’s the one feature you give up by the way If you don’t have persistent internet connectivity is the logging of when people go in and out of the door, which you know is valuable if you’re an Airbnb. But if it’s just your house, like it’s not that necessary, and I could be convinced that hey, you know what, here’s a cheaper product that doesn’t have the same environmental impact, is much more secure because it’s not on the internet, but I also don’t, but I don’t get the logging of when I come in and leave the house, I think I’d make that trade off. And so I think, again, it’s around people really rethinking how they might build products, starting with this new reality that, hey, everyone’s got a phone, all of them have NFC in them. I understand how digital wallets work and this wireless charging and all these other things are going to be an interesting way to rethink how I do these things. 

– [Ryan] And you mentioned something a couple of times in that answer and then earlier around sustainability and the impact that NFC has on sustainability in general when it comes to, not just sustainability high level, but with IoT devices, and that’s just a topic that comes up all the time is when we’re talking about batteries, and we’re talking about increasing battery life, making things so we don’t, less disposable, talking about using solar power, things like that, where does or what is NFC doing when it comes to having an impact on sustainability with IoT devices and what role is it really playing there?

– [Mike] I would say that there’s two initiatives. One of them is basically around this power harvesting, which we’ve talked about. So the idea is that our current specification allows you to negotiate a power up to one watt to collect power off of a, another device. We’re working on the standard to go out to three watts, which will give you additional power. And that is on one of our roadmap items. It’s currently in development. It’s probably a year away, but it’s something that we’re currently working on.

And we are, the next effort would be around evangelizing the idea that devices don’t have to have batteries. The best way to have a sustainable product is not have a battery at all. And so using power harvesting is a really great idea. The next effort is also an item on our roadmap, which is to begin to prepare the market for the coming European Commission regulatory framework around what’s called the digital product passport. And I’m not sure if your listeners are familiar with that, obviously go Google it, but it’s a, it’s an effort that will be coming to the consumer electronics industry at some point in the future, it’s going to be EV batteries first and probably textiles and then consumer products third, that basically is around the idea that every product should have a what’s called a digital product passport that describes the usability, repairability of devices. And right now the current architecture is to have all that data in the cloud. And so what we’re looking at is enhancing our specifications to make it easy for people that are already implementing NFC in their products to be compliant to those requirements. Both to allow NFC to be the connection to the cloud. So if I tap on something, I could go find the data information on the cloud. But also we’re looking at how we might enhance it by allowing people to put that data directly on the product. So the idea is that I could just have it directly on the device and not have to go to the cloud to find out that information.

We think that design would actually have a lower carbon footprint and also would allow in the down cycle when these things end up in landfills or on the way to landfills that, where there may not be good internet connectivity, to allow people to sort and identify products and get them out of the supply chain in terms of recycling.

And then finally, the last item would be around data integrity and fraud. So one of the big concerns of the TPP is that if I was a nefarious manufacturer, I could put data in the cloud that doesn’t necessarily match the products that I’m making or over time, that data might drift or be changed. We’re looking at ways that we could build a system so that we could authenticate that the data in the cloud is for the product that I have in my hand because I have an NFC tag or NFC capability in those devices.

So it’s really around evangelizing wireless charging, how that can help with removing batteries entirely or just having rechargeable batteries, so you don’t have to replace them all the time. And then the next effort is around building new standards that help people get in front of regulatory. You look at what happened with usbc. That’s been a big rush for people because they’ve been slow to the table to solve all those problems. 

– [Ryan] What should people really be keeping their eye on going forward throughout the, through into next year and beyond when it comes NFC?

– [Mike] So I would say that in summary, about a year and a half ago, the NFC Forum kind of looked at our current adoption and use cases, and we’ve come up with a three to five year roadmap. So this is published out on our website, and I will quickly go over the five items on the roadmap. So these are active areas where we are either exploring or developing standards, and organizations can obviously, if they’re a member of our group, could participate in these conversations. And I think that once these specifications and technologies are completed, I think all of us will see a lot of benefits from those. So the five roadmap items, hopefully I can do this from memory, the first one is around wireless charging. I’ve already mentioned going out to three watts. That’s one of the first steps.

The next one’s around increased range. So I’ve mentioned the fact that we test up to five millimeters. We have an active research effort that we think we can actually extend the range of NFC for these types of transactions, maybe four to five times the distance. And what’s really important about, now, by the way, that’s still quite small. That’d only be like two centimeters. So it’s a very short distance, but what’s great about that for IoT suppliers is that allows them more flexibility in their product design. They can actually put the, someplace more convenient for close to the IC board or something like that. They don’t have to be as, the antenna doesn’t have to be as close. Like it gives them some flexibility in design. 

The third item on our roadmaps around multipurpose tap. And this actually is in a very early stage today around the use case definition. The idea here is that today when you tap, only one thing happens. And we’re looking at ways that you can have multiple things happen when you tap. The current deepest exploration right now is when it comes to payment. So here’s the use case. I go into a shop, and I have a loyalty card, and I want to buy some alcohol. I have to do, I have to do three different activities to purchase that. I have to get out my ID card to show that I’m overage to buy the alcohol. Two, I want to show them my loyalty card to get my points and three, I have to pay. We’re looking at how you might be able to combine all three of those actions in one tap. So I’d go up to the payment terminal, I tap on time and all three of those things could happen all at the same time, only over one tap. And likewise, we’re looking at how you might be able to post transaction to get a receipt. So these are all that, this is the multipurpose tap room we’re defining. 

The next item is around device connectivity. This does have an impact in the IoT marketplace with a security standard around TNEB is what we call it. It’s a secure way to exchange information between devices. And we’re looking to make that better. And then I have, I think the only one left that I haven’t mentioned is the extended data formats. And this is the digital product passport effort. And so all of these are very active conversations inside of the NFC forum. And I know all of these works are going to have an impact on our lives over the next couple of years as these standards come to market. 

– [Ryan] Where can the audience learn more about the NFC Forum and just follow up with any questions, thoughts, ideas they might have after listening to this? 

– [Mike] Our website is nfc-forum.org. If you go to that site, obviously you can get ahold of me if you’d like. I would encourage people that are somewhat new to the organization. We have a whole section around learning, so it explains the technology. We can connect you to our member meetings, or we have webinars on a quarterly basis around a variety of topics that you can of course register there. And then I, we have our specifications available online, and we also have a variety of membership paths. I would let people know that we do have a, unlike a lot of organizations, we do have a free membership path. So if you’re just looking to get started and become a member of the community, you can join for free and then over time, you can decide if you want to have greater access in terms of influencing the specifications, you can upgrade to a paid membership. But all you got to do is go to the website and sign up. It’s pretty low friction. The bigger the party, the more people’s lives we’re going to impact, so we’d love to have them on board.

– [Ryan] Thanks again, Mike. I appreciate it. Excited to get this out to our audience. I think this topic is very relevant to a lot of people, so I’m glad we’re able to shed more light on it than we have in the past. So perfect guest to come on and do that. So thanks again for your time.

– [Mike] Thanks, Ryan.

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