• A Wireless World

By Daniel Lee | 9th September 2015


How much do you know about the wireless technologies that we use on a daily basis? WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC; these are terms we often come across when making new electronic product purchases. If learning how these wireless technologies work, their current and future applications, and how they came to be ever piqued your curiosity, you have come to the right place. In this blog post, I share about the 4 main types of wireless technologies and how they are intertwined with our everyday lives. First stop, RFID.



RFID

RFID or Radio-Frequency-Identification is similar to the bar codes or magnetic strip found on the back of your credit cards. In other words, RFID can be used as a means to provide a unique identifier for a product. In contrast to NFC, RFID devices need not be placed in very close proximity to the partner device in order to work, with a coverage range of up to 3 meters. RFID tags can also be used without battery, enabling extended periods of usage (up to decades even). An RFID system consists mainly of 3 parts:

1. A scanning antenna

2. A transceiver with decoder to interpret the data

3. A transponder programmed with information


The 2 types of RFID tags are:

1. Active Tags

2. Passive Tags

RFID is mainly used for tracking and identification purposes, i.e. in bicycles to prevent theft, in animals to track movement/migration patterns, in dogs/cats to identify and track location, in credit cards to access applications, in key chains to locate keys in the event of misplacement. This database is made available to law enforcement agencies, repair shops and dealers. Similar to NFC, RFID products are also prone to cyber-theft, e.g. a cyber-thief can walk past you in a mall and know the exact contents of your bag. Privacy concerns have also arisen in regards to the widespread adoption of RFID technology, which gives away the locations of users. This relatively new widespread adoption also means that there are no concrete industry standards to govern the use of RFID. In the near future, RFID technology will potentially be combined with other applications to expand its features and functionalities, e.g. to combine RFID tags with sensors that track vital signs information on top of location tracking.



NFC

NFC or Near-field-communication is mainly used for short-distance communications between two devices within a few centimeters (up to 10) apart with low data rates of only a few Kbits per second. The technology is evolved from Radio Frequency Identification Technology or RFID in short and the most power-efficient amongst the four wireless technologies featured in this article. Due to its short range of coverage, NFC is commonly used to process micro transactions and short exchanges of information, i.e. in convenience stores, public transportation systems and electronic devices. Coils built into NFC devices allows for the generation of power which initiates data transmission over the radio waves to make these exchanges possible.

NFC is imbued in credit cards to allow for contactless payments, i.e. Visa pay-wave, MasterCard pay-pass. More recently, NFC is also imbued in smartphones that allow for a digital wallet, i.e. Google Wallet and Android Beam. In the near future, NFC will potentially be imbued in all the cards found in your wallet, be it library cards, business cards and even loyalty cards. Outside of e-commerce, NFC can also be found in the digital entertainment world. For example, Google’s do-it-yourself VR Kit or Google Cardboard as well as the ‘check-in’ function utilized by Nintendo’s Amiibo, bringing beloved Nintendo characters ‘to-life’ so to speak.

With all the features and ease of use that NFC offers, the technology seems irresistible to use on a regular basis. However, watch out for people who are out to steal your personal information that includes credit card details, addresses, contacts and account details, all with one well-executed swipe near your NFC enabled product. These ‘NFC thieves’ are able to steal essential information with a custom NFC scanner which is activated when they bring the scanner close to your purse/wallet/bag. A good way to deter these thefts is by storing your NFC products in a sleeve that deflects radio frequencies.



WiFi

If you think that Wi-Fi is short for wireless-fidelity, well think again! The term ‘Wi-Fi’ does not actually stand for anything and is thought to be a play on the term ‘Hi-Fi’ or high-fidelity. Quickly becoming the norm in internet connectivity, many now prefer WiFi in contrast to a LAN (local area network) line due to its superior offering of portability. Also, WiFi is compatible across all devices including operating systems and gaming systems. In order to connect to a WiFi network, you need to install a wireless adapter. To give you an idea of how your device connects to the internet via WiFi, here is a basic visual flowchart.

The applications for WiFi are numerous. On top of providing internet connectivity, WiFi also allows for many cool applications such as turning your smartphone into a remote control, sending documents to print/scan/fax to a wireless printer, tethering your smartphone network to provide shared internet connectivity and to stream video/music to any TV or any connected display at home. The future of WiFi entails a seamless integration amongst the different providers (mobile service providers, venue owners, hot-spot providers etc) to provide constant internet connectivity without us having to manually hunting down a network. Our devices will automatically connect to the best available connection in a secure and safe manner, jumping amongst different networks.



Bluetooth

Invented in 1994 by Ericsson as an alternative to RS-232 data cables, Bluetooth enables the exchange of data over short distances using radio transmissions at a frequency between 2.4 – 2.485 GHz, which is available and not licensed in most countries. The name Bluetooth, interesting enough is derived from a 10th century Danish King by the name of Harald Blåtand or Harald Bluetooth in English. The Bluetooth signal is propagated via a small computer chip imbued into your devices, and enables the exchange of data between two paired devices.

Bluetooth technology is highly power efficient and does not consume much battery life. With the recent advent of Bluetooth low energy or BLE optimized for maximum battery life consumes less than half of the power required by classic Bluetooth technology. As of today, Bluetooth technology is found in billions of devices ranging from smartphones to computers to medical devices to smart watches.


To give you a summary:

 
Screenshot 2015-09-09 16.53.07

Here at Sourcing Overseas, many of our products are integrated with the latest and greatest versions of these wireless technologies. Our fully equipped team specialize in bringing your products from conception to launch in a seamless fashion. Feel free to sign up for a free project review and kick-start your product idea to becoming a blockbuster success!



Sources:

http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/what-is-nfc-and-why-is-it-in-your-phone-948410

http://www.informationweek.com/interop/the-future-of-wi-fi/a/d-id/1320885

http://ccm.net/faq/298-what-is-wi-fi-and-how-does-it-work

http://www.rfwireless-world.com/Articles/NFC-basics.html

http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Technology-Article.asp?ArtNum=7

http://www.informationweek.com/interop/the-future-of-wi-fi/a/d-id/1320885

http://lifehacker.com/5671482/top-10-household-uses-for-wi-fi-that-arent-just-connecting-to-the-internet


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