Wireless alliance touts 'magic touch' RFID technology

CeBIT: A new era of wireless connectivity is around the corner, according to Nokia, Sony and Philips - who are claiming a breakthrough in touch-based interactivity

Nokia, Sony and Philips have formed an alliance to drive the adoption and use of a new wireless technology based on radio-frequency identification (RFID) that will enable electronic devices to interact when touched together.

The creation of the Near Field Communication (NFC) Forum was announced at the CeBIT trade show on Thursday morning.

The three companies say that NFC will make it much easier to transfer information between devices and will improve the process of mobile commerce. They also claim the technology will revolutionise the way people interact with their environment.

"NFC is a unique wireless technology enabling easy, intuitive and convenient interaction between electronic devices," said Philip's Peter Baumgartner at a press conference to launch the Forum.

"Its magic touch will improve the usability of existing technology and allow the IT industry to create whole new ones," said Timo Poikolainen of Nokia.

NFC-compliant devices will contain an RFID chip, in addition to software to manage the process of connecting to another piece of NFC kit.

The members of the NFC Forum envisage that their technology will be used to manage connections to both active and passive devices. People, they say, could use it to establish a link between two handheld devices in order to swap music -- or they could just wave their NFC phone at a smart film poster to automatically buy a ticket.

Alternatively, it could help a user to use their mobile phone as an e-wallet. A demonstration of NFC's potential showed a travelling businessperson using their NFC-capable phone to check in at the airport, collect a digital key on arrival at their hotel, and pay their bill electronically when they checked out.

While NFC will handle identification of users through RFID, it appears that wireless protocols such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi will still be used for the data transfer.

"NFC won't replace Bluetooth or infrared. This is a new paradigm based on touching, and it will complement these existing wireless technologies," a NFC spokesman explained.

Although it will be possible to initiate an NFC link just by bringing two devices within a couple of centimetres of each other, Baumgartner says that users are much more likely to touch them together to begin the process.

Despite the fanfare of Thursday's announcement, this isn't NFC's first appearance on the IT stage. Way back in the autumn of 2002, Philips and Sony proclaimed that they would work together to create the wireless technology.

The addition of Nokia to the mix gives the group extra weight in the mobile sector which could be crucial for driving momentum and accelerating take-up of the technology. The Forum also called on more IT companies to join them, but refused to reveal which firms they are already in discussions with.

The Forum members say they already have working products, some of which were demonstrated at CeBIT.

For the technology to become a successful standard it will need to be deployed in products from manufacturers across the IT industry, a process that may take many years.

However, Sony is very bullish about NFC's chances. Teruaki Aoki, president of Sony Electronics, told CeBIT that NFC would be a bridge between electronic devices as varied as PCs, PDAs, video camera, car navigation systems, TVs and audio systems -- starting with Sony's own wide range of equipment.

"Sony will strongly promote the implementation of NFC into new technology," Aoki declared.