Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

NFC specs to let smartphones talk with IoT devices

Steve Rogerson
June 20, 2019
The NFC Forum hopes to enhance connectivity of IoT devices with new and updated specifications. The aim is to let smartphones and apps establish bi-directional communications with IoT devices.
The industry association has published the Tag NFC Data Exchange Format Exchange Protocol Candidate Specification (TNEP) and a new candidate version of its Connection Handover Technical Specification (CH 1.5).
The TNEP candidate specification is the first of its kind to simplify the bidirectional exchange of data between an NFC-enabled phone and an IoT device. When combined with the TNEP, CH 1.5 enables new NFC, Bluetooth and wifi negotiated handover products and services. Together, the two specifications target microcontroller-based designs for IoT devices.
“With the release of the TNEP and CH 1.5 candidate specifications, the connectivity opportunities for IoT device manufacturers expand significantly,” said Koichi Tagawa, chairman of the NFC Forum. “This will enable consumers and business users to quickly and easily benefit from a growing range of IoT devices using NFC’s easy one-tap paradigm.”
Both candidate specifications are available for industry review before they are validated and adopted by the NFC Forum and available for general use.
For the first time, IoT device manufacturers can now use components implementing the protocol for tag communications to create more cost-efficient designs. TNEP is based on the standard procedure to read and write to an NFC Forum tag, meaning all NFC-enabled smartphones that let their apps read and write tags can support TNEP using an app. These apps can establish a bidirectional NFC communication link to IoT devices without the need to implement the LLCP logical link control protocol for peer-to-peer (P2P) communications.
Bidirectional communications with IoT devices mean NFC-enabled smartphones can read the actual state from the IoT device – for example the actual title of music played – and can change the configuration of the IoT device by write access to, say, adjust the volume or to switch to the next audio file. It can be used, for example, to configure an audio system, digital camera, lightning system, smart meter or radiator valve. This protocol can also be used where P2P is not implemented, for example, on existing NFC readers that do not support P2P mode.
The first NFC Forum candidate specification to take advantage of this new TNEP definition is the updated version of the NFC Forum Connection Handover Technical Specification (CH 1.5). Previously, negotiated handover could only occur over a peer-to-peer connection. CH 1.5 can now use TNEP to allow an additional negotiated handover for a connection between a reader-writer and NFC tag device providing users more control over how they gather and share their information between devices, thereby increasing the security of paired connections.
By defining the messaging structure for how negotiated handover operates with a reader-writer and an NFC tag device, CH 1.5 creates the possibility for the development of new technology pairing NFC with Bluetooth or wifi when the data to be transferred are large or streamed for a long time, for example Bluetooth audio streaming between a smartphone and a speaker or headset, streaming session between a smartphone and a TV, or transfer of a photo between a digital camera or a smartphone over wifi.
The NFC Forum was launched as a non-profit industry association in 2004 by mobile communications, semiconductor and consumer electronics companies. The forum's mission is to advance the use of NFC technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services, and educating the market about NFC technology. The forum's global member companies are developing specifications for a modular NFC device architecture, and protocols for interoperable data exchange and device-independent service delivery, device discovery and device capability. Only member companies can participate in the forum's certification programme of NFC devices, readers and tags.