What is NFC on Android phones?

If you have an Android phone, you may have heard of NFC, or near field communication. If not, you’ve almost certainly used it to make payments on your phone. This article will explain what NFC is and how it works for mobile wallets such as Google Pay and Samsung Pay, so you can understand the technology behind your contactless payments. 

In addition, this article will also explain how NFC is now being used for the new ‘tap to phone’ apps. These apps allow small business owners to turn their Android phone into a contactless card reader through the use of NFC technology.

What is NFC?

This article will focus on how NFC works on Android phones specifically. Near field communication (NFC) is the technology that makes it possible for you to just tap your card or phone on a card reader to make a payment. More specifically, it allows for the transfer of small payloads of data between Android devices and NFC tags. 

An NFC tag consists of little more than a thin copper coil and a microchip. When an NFC reader is brought near the tag, the reader generates a magnetic field. This then passes an electric current through the coil in the tag, which triggers the tag to transfer the data wirelessly to the reader.

NFC is designed for short-range communication over just a few centimetres. Although this may seem limited, this is just the right distance to make a contactless card payment.  

In addition to being used in card payments 

Does my Android have NFC?

Many modern smartphones come with an NFC tag built in. In fact, the first Android to have NFC was the Nexus S back in 2010. Although some low-end Android models do not have NFC, NFC is extremely common today in both smartphones and smart-watches.

There are a few ways to check if you have NFC on your Android phone:

  • Check this full list of NFC-enabled devices.
  • Go into your settings and search ‘NFC’. If it returns a result, then your phone is NFC-enabled.
  • Check the user manual for your phone.
  • Test it with your mobile-wallet by trying to process a contactless transaction using your phone.

Now that you have checked that your phone has NFC, the next question you may have is whether this is a secure payment method. Read on to find out…

Is NFC on Android secure?

Both consumers and business owners alike should always be aware of security risks when making contactless payments. For example, given that NFC transmits transaction data wirelessly, you may be concerned about whether this transmission can be intercepted by fraudsters.

There are two key factors that help secure NFC from these threats:

  • User authentication – NFC-enabled Android devices require a password or fingerprint scan or facial scan to be used to make a payment. Therefore, even if someone steals your phone, they will not be able to use it to pay for anything without getting around this added security layer. Therefore, an NFC-enabled Android is safer in this respect than a contactless debit card, which can be used by anyone.
  • Proximity – NFC works over a very short range, around 4cm. Therefore, in order for someone to intercept that signal they would need to be standing extremely close to the device. Unless they were someone you know, you would likely notice this alongside any other suspicious behaviour. This allows you to identify potential hacking before it occurs.

However, ultimately any transaction carries some risk of fraud, and any technology can be hacked in theory. You should therefore always be careful when using NFC to make payments – you can read about how to stay safe with NFC here.

NFC for Tap to Phone

So far, we have looked at using NFC on your Android phone to make payments. But did you know that you can also use it to take payments?

Tap to phone apps, or SoftPOS apps, use new software which allows you to accept contactless card payments directly on your phone, without the need for additional hardware (SoftPOS should not be confused with mPOS, which are lightweight wireless terminals). Just as with mobile wallets, these apps use NFC on your phone to receive the relevant transaction data. 

In fact, with a tap to phone app, your Android device can be used to take payments from a mobile wallet on another Android device. These kinds of transactions completely bypass typical payment methods of card readers and debit/credit cards. The transaction fully occurs from one NFC-enabled device to another. We truly are entering a new generation of payments.

Again, the security of such transactions may be your first thought. If you are interested in getting tap to phone on your Android and want to ensure it is secure, you should download an app like tapeeno, which is fully PCI certified to the latest CPoC standards (Contactless Payments on COTS (Commercial off-the-shelf)). 

Final Thoughts

Transactions involving NFC-enabled devices are getting more and more common. By the end of 2020, there were around 2.8 billion mobile wallets in use. This is more than double the 1 billion in use in 2018. If you are one of those that uses a mobile wallet, it is important to understand how it works, and what the potential risks are. It is also worth fully understanding the power of NFC devices – you can not only use them to make payments, but with new tap to phone apps you can also take payments on your Android. 

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