NFC, or near-field communication, is a technology that has been around for decades. Despite its age, it’s still revolutionizing the way retailers interact with customers. Because NFC can get technical rather quickly, we’ve compiled a list of frequently-asked questions to help you join the conversation.

What is NFC?

NFC is the standard by which devices communicate with one another using radio waves over a very short distance. NFC is engaged by bringing two NFC-enabled devices within close proximity of one another, usually no more than a few centimeters, or by tapping them together. In lieu of a second smart device, some NFC interactions involve the use of NFC tags.

What is an NFC tag?

NFC tags are postage stamp-sized stickers that contain embedded soft circuits. When another NFC device is brought into proximity, the tag generates power from the other device’s radio waves and begins to transmit its own signal.

Because tags generate their own power, they do not require batteries or wires. Tags do, however, require the other device to have an application capable of generating and interpreting NFC radio signals.

How does NFC interact with my device?

If your smartphone is NFC-enabled, then bringing it into the proximity of another NFC device or an NFC tag will establish communication between the two entities.

In order for your smartphone to know to send and interpret signals, you need to have an app that handles the communication process. Examples of such apps include NFC tag readers and mobile wallets.

How does my app know what an NFC signal means?

Depending on the purpose of the app, you could interact with NFC devices or tags to download information, claim an offer, or make a payment. In most cases, the app itself simply reads and identifies the incoming signal, then pulls a message or other information from an online source and displays it.

How far do NFC signals reach?

NFC operates within a very short range. Depending on the devices involved, you may need to physically tap your smartphone to the other device. In other cases, bringing your smartphone within a few centimeters of the other device or tag is sufficient.