What is NFC in Bluetooth headphones and speakers?

NFC which stands for Near Field Communication is a short-range wireless communication technology that can be used in Bluetooth speakers and headphones for fast Bluetooth pairing. This eliminates the need of having to manually select and pair your speaker or Bluetooth.

This technology is used on most smartphones and is also implemented in some speakers and headphones but can also be added to your audio device as a passive tag to simplify the pairing process by touching them together.

NFC pairing eliminates the tedious process that is involved in setting up and connecting your mobile device to the speaker or headphones.

What is NFC and how does it work?

NFC (Near field communication) is a wireless communication technology that has been around since the early 2000s.

It is a subset of the fairly old RFID (radio frequency identification) and uses a specific frequency within the RFID frequency band which is 13.56 MHz, to be exact and a transfer rate of between 106 and 424 kilobits per second (kbit/s).

What this means is that NFC uses radio waves for communication but at a 13 MHz frequency.

It also operates at relatively close distances, typically between 0 and 10 centimeters but in most cases, will operate at distances of less than 4 centimeters requiring physical touch in a majority of the cases.

When two NFC devices are brought close together, they are activated and a communication channel is established between them that can be used for the following major purposes;

  • Data transfer between two active chips (peer to peer mode).
  • Read and write information on a passive tag (reader/writer mode).
  • Card emulation where your smartphone acts as a contactless card (card emulation mode).

Active vs Passive NFC

There are two main types of NFC that you need to be aware of and that is active and passive NFC.

Active NFC chips need a power source to operate and these are the chips found within smartphones. They can be used to both send and receive data. When one chip transmits data, the other receives the transfer data and vice versa when they are close to each other.

These chips have an antenna that can be located inside your phone’s battery or the backside case but uses very little power.

Meanwhile, passive NFC does not require a power source but generates current to power them using electromagnetic induction. This electromagnetic field is generated by an active NFC device and with the help of a rectifier, enough power required by the passive tag is generated.

The active NFC can read or write data within the passive tag for the execution of certain commands such as turning on and connecting Bluetooth.

How to add NFC to a Bluetooth speaker or headphone

What you will need;

  • An NFC-capable smartphone, laptop, iPad, etc.
  • Programmable Passive NFC tags
  • One or more Bluetooth speakers/headphones
  • A programming/writing app.

Purchasing and adding NFC tags to your wireless audio several devices

Programmable NFC tags are dirt cheap but the price can range depending on the available storage (typically between 40 bytes and 4 kilobytes). The more commands you need to add to a tag, the more storage you will need. It is important to keep in mind that most commands do not take up much space. Various commands only take up a few bytes.

The second thing that can affect the price of these tags is the surface they are made to work on. Most NFC tags are rated to adhere and work on plastic surfaces and may suffer interference when placed on metal surfaces.

However, some are manufactured to work properly on metallic surfaces with little to no interference by adding separation between them and the metal surface. These tags are a bit costlier compared to their counterparts but are still cheap.

Depending on the surface you plan to place the tag on, you will need to put the above information into consideration. Also, you do not need much storage.

Writing commands on the cheap

There are various apps that you can use to write data on NFC tags and the most popular ones being;

  • TagWriter by NXP
  • NFC Task Launcher
  • NFC Actions
  • NFC Writer by Tagstand

Programming these tags is fairly easy as you do not need to write any code. The apps are direct and straightforward to use.

After writing the command to activate and connect to a Bluetooth device on touch, you will need to tap the NFC tag on the backside to write the commands on the tags.

You can use various tags on various Bluetooth speakers and headphones using the same commands. This can come in handy if you are using a multi-room wireless speaker system.

On bringing your phone close to the Bluetooth device or touching them together, they will automatically connect.

You can also place a tag on your car’s stereo system if is Bluetooth-enabled which will essentially do the same thing.

How does Bluetooth compare to NFC?

The comparison table is a summary of how NFC and Bluetooth technologies differ.

Power consumptionUses very little power. Does not always need to be connected to an external power source.Need an external power source for operation as it consumes more power.
Connection speedsSuperfast. Usually a few milliseconds.Can range from fast to slow depending on the Bluetooth version being used.
RangeLess than 10 centimetersAs much as 50 meters
Data Transfer ratesTransfer rates are low. Can be as high as 424 Kbit/sSignificantly higher transfer rates. Can be as high as 24 Mbit/s
Bluetooth vs NFC

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