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NFC-equipped phones set to surge

A mere 40 million phones with near-field communications should ship in 2011, but expect 700 million in 2016. All we need now is something to do with them.

NFC Forum logo

It looks like life will get harder for people who live in Faraday cages to escape electromagnetic emissions, because wireless data-transfer technologies are booming in growth, according to a study released today.

Shipments of Bluetooth-equipped devices should double between 2011 and 2015, and Wi-Fi is growing fast as well even if it's not built into as many electronics products today. But the real explosion comes from NFC, or near-field communications, analyst firm IMS Research said today.

"The number of NFC-enabled mobile handset shipments is projected to increase from 40 million in 2011 to over 700 million in 2016," said analyst Don Tait. The growth spurt is under way now: NFC device shipments should be 100 million in 2012, the study said.

NFC enables short-range communication between a radio-enabled device and a nearby chip. The chip can be powered just by the radio's energy transmitted to the chip's antenna, which makes it useful for smart cards that don't have batteries, but with more active NFC systems such as Samsung's Nexus S phone, a device can be both a transmitter and receiver.

The holy grail of NFC is contactless payments with a smartphone. Instead of carrying a wallet with cash, credit cards, and debit cards, you'll wave your phone over a payment station. Some expect NFC also to be useful for promotions: an ad with an NFC chip could be used to send a mobile phone's browser to a Web page.

Some phones come with NFC support today, and more are on the way. On the service end of the technology, companies including Google, PayPal, T-Mobile, and Visa are getting involved with NFC. A group called the NFC Forum is trying to improve and promote NFC.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are more mature technologies, continue to grow, too. Bluetooth's growth comes both from use in growing markets and expansion into new domains such as active-shutter 3D glasses. From 2010 to 2015, the percentage of consumer electronics devices using Bluetooth should increase from 32 percent to 44 percent, IMS Research forecast.

With Wi-Fi, the percentage of devices equipped with it should increase from 15 percent in 2010 to more than twice that in 2015, IMS Research said. Wi-Fi also is hitched to growing markets such as smartphones and new ones made possible by the Wi-Fi Direct technology, which can connect a range of devices with low-power technology.