Nokia has launched its first product that supports Near Field Communication (NFC), an emerging radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that could have significant implications for mobile commerce.
The Nokia NFC shell is designed to replaces the existing case of the mobile maker's 3220 handset. It contains an NFC chipset, meaning it can interact with other NFC services, and download information such as Web URLs to the handset.
Nokia showed off the device for the first time at its Mobility conference in Monaco on Tuesday. It claimed that the shell is the first NFC-enabled mobile product, although back in August Samsung said it would build NFC phones.
NFC was launched at the CeBIT trade show in March this year, when its advocates claimed that the 'magic touch' technology would help to revolutionise the mobile experience.
NFC is effectively an authentication mechanism that sets up a wireless connection so that information can be transmitted to a mobile handset.
A Nokia representative demonstrated that when a 3220 phone with the NFC shell attached is tapped against an NFC-enabled advert, a URL linking to a page with further information about the advert is received by the handset.
Other applications for NFC include swapping electronic business cards between phones, and using a phone to check in at an airport or hotel.
Companies such as Philips and Sony are also pushing NFC strongly, but so far there has been limited deployment. The technology has the 'chicken and egg' problem: without NFC-enabled handsets on the markets, there is little incentive to launch NFC services.
For this reason, the Nokia shell -- which will be available from the first quarter of 2005 -- is expected to be taken up by companies who are working on their own NFC services, rather than to end users.
"They will mostly be used by companies who are conducting commercial pilots," said the Nokia representative, who declined to say if NFC shells for other phone models were on the way.
Mauri Niininen, Nokia's director for enterprise solutions, believes that NFC will take RFID beyond supply chain management and into enterprise and consumer services.
"We're changing the picture," said Niininen, explaining that the mobile phone can be a low-cost RFID reader.
Niininen suggested that companies could use RFID for security purposes, for example by tagging sensitive areas of their premises, and giving a security guard an RFID device they could check that these places were being regularly visited. He also believes that consumers could use RFID technologies to buy and use tokens instead of using cash.