Welcome to the Contactless Future

It has been a little while coming, but mobile near field communication (NFC) is about go mainstream. Here at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, this easy-to-use contactless technology is everywhere: You may have already loaded a virtual NFC badge and ID on to your handset and be using it to gain access to the Congress.

Along the walkways, entrances and within the exhibition halls of Fira Gran Via, you’ll find smart posters with NFC-enabled tags. Tapping one of these with your NFC handset will call up exhibitor directories, event information and special offers. If you have payment services enabled on your NFC-enabled handset, you can purchase drinks and food from NFC-enabled point of sale terminals throughout the Congress. There are a further 16,000 NFC-enabled point of sale terminals elsewhere in Barcelona.

There are also NFC touch points at Barcelona airport, in selected restaurants, in taxi cabs, and at central tourist locations, such as Tàpies and Miró Foundations, Gaudi’s Pedrera, providing discount vouchers, a wealth of information downloads and access to mobile applications.

Incredibly versatile, mobile NFC is digitising ticketing, payments, vouchers, loyalty programmes, access control and even the exchange of business cards. Working in tandem with mobile connectivity, NFC applications will save us time and money and enrich our lives.

Mobile NFC isn’t just a substitute for a contactless plastic card. It is much smarter than that. For example, a NFC-enabled rail ticket might make your handset vibrate when your train has arrived in the station. In a retail store, your NFC handset could remind you about any relevant vouchers you have and offer to redeem them when you reach checkout.

What’s more, NFC handsets are now widely available and in consumers’ hands. Almost 200 million NFC handsets have been sold worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics, and Deloitte expects up to 300 million NFC smartphones, tablets and e-readers to be sold this year.

NFC in action
Here at the Congress, we are showcasing some of the many ways in which mobile NFC will remove the friction from everyday life. On the GSMA Pavilion in the Congress Square, you can experience for yourself how NFC could whisk you through an airport. For example, your boarding pass could be integrated into your mobile SIM card, allowing you to check-in for your flight by simply tapping your NFC handset against a reader.

The GSMA Pavilion is also demonstrating a neat NFC travel tag system, developed by Israeli start-up Tag-a-Bag, that enables travellers to track lost luggage, access travel plans, post progress updates via social media, receive offers and create a log of their travels.

For a taste of how we will be shopping in future, check out the GSMA’s demo of how you can use a NFC handset to call up product information and order specific items simply by touching the phone against images on a poster. We even have an NFC Gumball machine, developed by German design studio Razorfish. You use the touchscreen to select an app, film, music track or e-book, insert a coin, turn a handle and hold your handset up to the NFC reader to receive the content.

Keeping the consumer in control
There is more to mobile NFC than the short-range near field communication technology that transfers data between a handset and a reader. Mobile connectivity and the SIM card in the handset both also play a crucial role. In many cases, mobile networks will be used to actually provide the service or content requested by a tap of a NFC handset against a reader.

Using the SIM card keeps the consumer in control. If their NFC handset is lost, a consumer can contact their operator and have their personal data immediately wiped from the SIM card. When they get a new NFC handset, that data can be securely loaded onto a new SIM card over the air. Consumers are likely to trust mobile operators to handle these processes because they are well-established companies with retail stores and call centres. Trust is crucial because some NFC applications, such as payment services or healthcare apps, may involve sensitive data.

More than 20 mobile operators across the world have already launched SIM-based NFC services and many more are planning to follow suit. The widespread rollout of SIM-based NFC services will make it easier for retailers, banks, travel companies and others to develop applications that will continue to work when you cross borders. Our vision is for mobile NFC services to work anywhere, across any handset, any operating system and any network.

That vision is beginning to crystalise. NFC handsets are widely available and the number of NFC-ready point of sales terminals in service worldwide is set to expand dramatically from 3.9 million in 2011 to 43.4 million in 2017, according to Berg Insight. Make no mistake, mobile NFC is gaining momentum: Welcome to a future where your NFC-enabled device becomes integral to every aspect of everyday life.

This article originally appeared in the Mobile World Congress Show Daily http://www.mobileworldlive.com/show-daily