Near Field Communication (NFC)


Near Field Communication, or NFC for short, is short-range wireless technology that allows smartphones and similar devices to communicate when they’re within a few inches of each other. This contactless technology has been around for years and has many applications that people use on a daily basis, including synching their smartphones to their cars and paying fares on public transportation.

NFC is also used for mobile contactless payments at both attended point-of-sale (POS)  locations like stores, and unattended locations like vending machines, that use the existing merchant payments infrastructure. 

NFC at the POS

NFC transactions are quick and convenient, which helps to keep the customer satisfied and makes it possible for merchants to process sales efficiently. NFC is also compatible with coupon and special offer redemptions that draw in customers and sales. Perhaps most importantly, NFC transactions are considered to be more secure than those involving traditional magnetic stripe credit cards, which can be stolen or cloned and used for unauthorized purchases.

An NFC-enabled smartphone or other mobile device is set up with a payment app and payment account information, typically a credit or debit card. Shoppers simply wave or tap the device — or a microchipped payment card — in front of an NFC receiver at checkout. They may also be required to scan a fingertip or provide a passcode to approve the transaction.

The receiver reads the signal and the transaction is validated by the Secure Element (SE), where personal and financial information is stored. Once validation is complete and the transaction is authorized by the processor, the transaction is charged to the shopper’s designated credit card and a sales receipt is issued.

NFC and Digital Wallets

Digital wallet is a term that refers to an electronic device that allows an individual to make electronic commerce transactions. A person can store a wealth of information in their digital wallet, including their ID, driver’s license, health insurance card and loyalty cards, as well as credit card account data, which can then be used to make purchases at a POS terminal.

NFC is the basis for at least two digital wallets already in use — Android Pay and Apple Pay — and the soon-to-be-launched Samsung Pay. All three utilize smartphones — and, in the case of Apple Pay, iPad Air®, iPad mini and the Apple Watch — as the payment device.

NFC and Secure Processing

As with all electronic financial transactions, security is a concern with NFC. One issue is “eavesdropping” by criminals attempting to steal data. However, since the NFC-equipped device or card must be in close proximity to the receiver, hackers have a very limited range in which to intercept signals. Additionally, there are established secure channels that encrypt the account data, which can only be decoded by an authorized device.

The Secure Element step in the process, which holds authorization power, is critical. Tamper-proof and protected by a unique digital signature, the SE is contained in a chip in the terminal and the customer’s mobile device, or functions virtually in the Cloud, to help protect the transaction from software and hardware attacks. 

Physical theft of an NFC-equipped device is another security concern. Digital wallet users are encouraged to password protect their device to keep their private and payment information out of the hands of thieves. 

Get Started Now

Many major retailers are already NFC capable, and this “tap and go” technology is expected to grow in popularity with U.S. consumers as more retailers and service providers upgrade to processing equipment that can handle both EMV® and NFC transactions.

Transitioning to EMV and NFC technology is simple. Just fill out the form on this page, or call the toll-free number, to talk to one of expert consultants about terminal options to meet your requirements.

Trademarks are the property of the respective owners and are not necessarily affiliated with TransFirst. Apple Pay, iPad Air, iPad mini and Apple Watch are trademarks of Apple, Inc. Samsung Pay is a trademark of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Android Pay is a trademark of Google Inc. EMV is a registered trademark or trademark of EMVCO LLC in the United States and other countries.

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federally-registered U.S. service marks of Total System Services, Inc. TransFirst is a registered ISO/MSP of: Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Walnut Creek, CA; Synovus Bank, Columbus, GA; and Deutsche Bank, New York, NY; for Visa® and MasterCard® transactions only. TSYS Merchant Solutions is a registered ISO/MSP of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Walnut Creek, CA and Synovus Bank, Columbus, GA.