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NFC in the real world

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Nick Holland from Yankee Group made a good point in their recent webinar on “NFC Not Just for Cards“. I’m probably only saying it’s a good point because it’s a point that I make too, but nevertheless the addition of an NFC interface to a mobile does change the relationship between the real and virtual worlds.

Put the two things together, in the form of near-field communication (NFC) handsets, and you have something special… Over the coming decade, the mobile phone will shift from being a network end-point to being a pivot between local and global environments, an indispensable and personal security token that bridges physical and virtual commerce.

[From Digital Money: Ten more years of technology]

Nick talked about this “hyperlinking” to the physical world and made the sensible point that while dull persons such as myself are obsessed with payments, the use of NFC will be far wider. This is perfectly correct, and I happened to see an excellent illustration of this general point in NFC World this very morn.

Some 35,000 households in Haiti are receiving ‘clean water’ buckets — which consist of a chlorine solution and an RFID-tagged five-gallon bucket to treat and store water — from the charity Deep Springs International (DSI). On each bucket is an RFID tag which is read during regular visits by community-based health workers who carry NFC-equipped Nokia 6212 phones. Just holding the phone up to the bucket reads the tag and records the visit, then they measure the amount of chlorine in the water and key it in to the handset

[From NFC phones help provide clean water to Haiti earthquake victims • NFC World]

In fact we have consistently advised clients that payments will be a niche. Anyway, Nick is correct, and on the Digital Identity Blog I’ve repeatedly made the point that the use of NFC to support digital identity applications will, in the long run, be far more important than digital money applications. A big step forward in assembling this infrastructure went almost unnoticed last year when the NFC specifications were extended to include the digital signing of data.

The Signature RTD candidate technical specification helps users verify the authenticity and integrity of data within NDEF messages by specifying the format to be used when signing single or multiple NDEF records. It defines the required and optional signature RTD fields, and also provides a list of suitable signature algorithms and certificate types that can be used to create the signature

[From NFC Forum : NFC Forum Announces Specifications to Support Peer-to-Peer Device Communication and Verify Data Authenticity ]

This is important, because if you want to go round touching real world things and have them connect to virtual world things, you need to be sure that they are what you think they are and they are part of the right infrastructure. When I tap on the poster in the restaurant window, I want to be sure that it is a legitimate hyperlink that will take me to a menu and not to a porn site. With this infrastructure in place, all sorts of new businesses become possible (and desirable). It means that someone if going to have organise how exactly the key, certificates and signatures are going to work and interoperate and that someone probably won’t be the mobile operators but a new entrant.

These “pivot” functions, that link the local and remote environment will, I firmly predict, lead to some incredible new applications. Fortunately, some of them will involve payments, which will be really good news for some of our clients.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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