How Do NFC Readers Work?


How Do NFC Readers Work?

How Do NFC Readers Work? (Simple Guide)

James McKellar, June 14, 2021

The way we do business and the technology we use as a customer or consumer has been evolving a lot in recent years with massive developments. 

From the rise of streaming services like Netflix to ride-sharing apps like Uber and contactless payments from our phones and chip cards. NFC is also prevalent in the security industry as a form of access control, but more on that later.

Some developments have been natural, and some have seen the pandemic as a catalyst, think of the number of Zoom calls done in the last year or so!

In this guide, we are going to cover NFC Readers, look at how they work, what they are, their benefits, uses, and what industries can utilize this technology.

By the end of this blog, you will have a much better understanding of NFC and how the readers operate.

To summarize, we'll cover: 

  • NFC Reader Basics
  • Features of NFC Readers
  • How to Work NFC Readers
  • NFC Reader Benefits 
  • Industries That Can Use NFC Readers
  • NFC Reader Summary

What are NFC Readers?

First, let’s make sure we understand NFC as a whole. Near Field Communication or NFC, is a form of short-range wireless technology that allows communication between two devices.

For example, this could be two smartphones, an ID card, a reader, or a smartphone and a reader. A few different types of devices can be read and various ways the technology can be used.

Near Field Communication allows for two-way communication between a reader and a device, unlike Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which is limited to one-way communication.

Let’s contextualize what NFC Readers are by two of the most common usages of them, payment and security.

NFC Readers for Payment

You are fairly likely to have come across this multiple times, especially with the shift towards these types of payments. The cards can be identified by the contactless symbol on the face.

NFC Readers for Security

As we have alluded to, NFC is very popular in the security industry as a form of access control. Users can be given ID cards or key fobs that will grant them access to secure doors and locations.


Key Components of NFC Reader

In this section, we are going to quickly outline the parts that make up a Near Field Communication (NFC) Reader.

Tag - this is the technical term for the device that is being read. It is the unique identifier that determines what the tag is or the information that is being shared.

Antenna - this is how the signal is transmitted between the reader and the device it is scanning. It is typically within the device and not visible. For example, in a key fob the technology is inside the tag. 

Reader - the reader is how NFC signals are scanned and decoded, depending on the devices used, this can specifically scan or a device that has both sending and receiving abilities, such as a smartphone

Passive or Active Technology - we will look at this in the next section, but basically, this is whether the tag is powered by itself or by the reader when being scanned. 

How Do NFC Readers Work?

Near Field Communication Readers use close-range signals at a frequency of 13.56MHz to talk to each other and transmit data or information. 

Typically speaking NFC has one transmitting device sending the data and another receiving it. In certain situations, both can do these functions.

NFC may sound similar to Radio Frequency Technology but it is fairly different, one of the major differences is the fact it uses an alternating magnetic field as opposed to emitting radio waves.

The reader will send an electric current to the device (or tag) which will then power it up, meaning a passive device does not need a power source, which leads the way for access control applications.

To put this into context, let’s look at an example from a security and access control perspective. The reader can be linked to a secure door with the user given a special ID card that when tapped on the reader will transmit the data and unlock the door.

You may have commonly used an NFC reader when paying contactless using a card or your phone, this is often the technology that the machines use, signified by the contactless symbol.

Active NFC vs Passive NFC

Near Field Communication can be split into two categories, Active and Passive. Each has its own usages and ways that it can be implemented into security, business, or payment systems. 

Active NFC 

As the name suggests this means that both the reader and the device can send and receive information via signal transmission. This means that both have a power supply and can initiate or reciprocate signals.

Basically, both devices can operate in either of the roles, so this could be two smartphones that can operate in either the sender or receiver function. 

Passive NFC

The major difference here is the fact that the reader has to ‘power’ the device it is scanning and it can not generate a signal on its own. 

To contextualize this, say that you have a key fob, it will only power when you tap it to the reader and transfer the ID data to it.


What are the Benefits of NFC Readers?

Understanding the importance of NFC Readers and how they impact both the business side of an operation and the people side will help you appreciate their relevance in a modern business setting. Let’s look at a few examples of the benefits of using Near Field Communication Readers.

User Benefits  

Simple User Experience 

Creating a smooth user experience is imperative to improving adoption rates of new technology, if it is easier than before it is even more likely to be successfully implemented.

In recent years, user experience (UX) has been at the forefront of how we conduct business. NFC technology was born out of the need for simple and easy user interactions whether that is for payment, security, or access control. 

Quick to Use

The whole crux of technology is to make things easier and oftentimes this also means quicker. This can be anything from a boarding pass on your phone to automated check-in at a hotel.

NFC boasts the ability to be incredibly quick to use and thus, has had a wide range of applications across a whole host of industries and countries. 

No Learning Curve

Due to their increased usage in the past few years, there is virtually no learning curve for the majority of users. You would be hard pressed to find someone who has not had to use contactless payments recently.

Developing a way to ensure your users and guests do not have to learn how to use a new system or technology is a vital part of eliminating reluctance to change.

Operational Benefits 

Short Term Access

Having the ability to determine who can gain access to your business or buildings is a luxury that is becoming much more mainstream. Gone are the days of relying on lock and key systems.

NFC Readers play an important part in a security system and contribute to a wider access control sphere. The ability to grant temporary access for visitors, guests, and suppliers make your business much more secure and efficient. 


Being able to know who has gained access to your buildings and when they entered is vital information that will change the way you do business.

Tracking may sound a little dystopian, but this is much more about safety for you and your staff, and a lot less about Big Brother watching your every move. 

Easy Integration 

As a business owner, you do not want to create disruption or added stress to your operations, so finding something that is easy to integrate is important when updating your security.

NFC Access Control is a perfect solution that will improve efficiency, increase security, and be simple to implement into your company. 

What Industries Can Benefit From an NFC Reader?

Due to their versatility and design NFC technology can be used in a plethora of different industries to help payment, access control, and business operations. 

Here are a few examples of where Near Field Communication Readers can be implemented. 

  • Retail
  • Industrial 
  • Airports and Transport Hubs
  • Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Car Parks
  • Stock Rooms 
  • Warehouses
  • Freeports and Storage Facilities
  • Prisons
  • Hospitals  

The list goes on, but this should give you an idea of how broad the applications for Near Field Communication (NFC) Readers are. 

The NFC Reader Industry

Hopefully, now you have a better grasp of what NFC is, how it is used and why it is important moving forward. Even if you did not realize how it has shaped how we conduct business and security, there is no denying that it has played a key role.

As this area continues to expand and develop we are much more likely to see even more dependence on these forms of both payment and security.

From the rapid decline in the use of lock and key methods to the lower barriers to entry for the contactless and access control markets. 

The world we know is changing and technology will always be there to help stagnated and aged methods and industries move forward into the 21st century and beyond.

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