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NFC: Another day, another acronym, right? But when it comes to NFC, which stands for “near field communication,” it’s one you actually want to understand, because it’s the technology that enables you to make contactless payments with your mobile devices.
What is it?
NFC (near field communication) is the technology that allows two devices—like your phone and a payments terminal—to talk to each other when they’re close together. NFC is the technology that enables contactless payments. As the name suggests, contactless payments are transactions that don’t require physical contact between a device (like a smartphone) and the payment reader (unlike a magnetic-stripe card transaction, where you have to physically swipe the card).
How does NFC work?
NFC is a type of radio frequency identification (or RFID) technology. The technology allows us to identify things through radio waves. RFID is nothing new—it’s been used for decades for things like scanning items in grocery stores and luggage on baggage claims, and tagging cattle. It’s now increasingly being used to enable mobile payments (and also in video game technology).
An NFC payment is triggered when a smartphone is held a few centimeters away from a payment reader — so the devices can communicate wirelessly via a special radio frequency. Aside from the technology being pretty cool, the transactions are a lot quicker and more secure than magnetic-stripe cards.
Do phones have NFC?
If you have a smartphone enabled with NFC technology, you can load your credit or debit card info onto the device and then use it to make contactless payments. This payment method is also known as mobile wallet technology.
Large retailers like Target, Whole Foods and Best Buy can now accept NFC mobile wallet payments like Apple Pay. But it’s not just for the big guys–small businesses who use Square’s contactless and chip reader can also accept this type of payment. For Apple products, most devices running the latest version of iOS will work, including iPhone 4 and later, the 2nd generation iPad and later, and the 5th generation and later iPod Touch. The reader is also compatible with a wide range of Android devices, including many Samsung, HTC, and LG models. If you don’t see your phone or tablet listed, can check out a full list of devices that are compatible with Square’s NFC reader.
How can you use NFC to pay for things?
Just as there are different phone models that are NFC enabled, there are also different payment platforms, like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. Let’s take a look at each of them.
This is Apple’s mobile wallet, and it’s available on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and later, plus the Apple Watch and some version of the iPad. To set up Apple Pay, load your credit and debit card information onto your device either manually or by capturing an image of the card with your phone’s camera. Then, when it comes time to pay, hold your phone over the reader and complete the transaction with your Touch ID, or fingerprint verification.
To use Samsung’s mobile wallet, a customer opens the app and then holds their device over the NFC or magnetic stripe point-of-sale terminal (that’s right–it works on both). This technology is available on the Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus and Galaxy Note 5.
Google’s mobile wallet technology is available on all NFC-enabled devices that run Android 4.4 or later versions. To use Android Pay, a customer just opens the app on their phone (which requires the user to have a secure lock screen) and completes the transaction by holding their device over the payment reader.