How NFC is being used for Product Identification and Authentication
A 2015 report published by Vandagraf Research spelled out the problem facing clothing brands. Some 20 per cent of all sportswear items were estimated to be counterfeit. That's a serious issue, and one which threatened to seriously jeopardise the livelihood of firms in the sector. But around the same time, the ideal solution had already been developed, and was beginning to gain traction...
Near Field Communication (NFC) technology can be embedded discreetly into clothing labels, in order to prove the authenticity of the accompanying garment. All it takes is a swipe of an NFC enabled device, such as a smart phone, and the official source of a clothes item can be confirmed. This innovation represents the most potent, cost effective weapon for clothes manufacturers in the battle against fake products. The same Vandagraf Research report mentioned above estimated that by the year 2021, there will be over one billion clothing items which can connect with mobile readers such as smart phones.
Writing on the Express Computer platform, Sanjay Gupta, Vice President & India Country Manager at NXP Semiconductors - the global semiconductor manufacturer operational in 35 countries - reaffirmed that the benefits Contactless NFC technology provides to the clothes industry is a two way street. Mr Gupta explained: "With NFC and mobile authentication services, consumers can be certain they are buying genuine products, while brands and retailers can prevent revenue loss and protect their reputations."
Upping the stakes
In no sphere of the fashion world is authentication more important than in the luxury goods sector. Here brands are retailing items which can cost hundreds, or thousands of pounds. Therefore it is absolutely essential that the 'real thing' can be identified easily by the end recipient - the consumer. From luxury Swiss watches to designer Italian handbags; guarding against rip offs is a way of protecting brand reputations and ringfencing profits.
NFC chips don't have to be embedded into the label of the luxury item, or the product itself. In some cases, NFC warranty cards are issued by retailers with luxury goods at the point of sale. Besides acting as a certificate of authentication, it also offers proof of purchase and can act as a loyalty or exclusivity card as well, with many potential marketing and sales benefits for the brand.
One thing is for sure, the more luxury brands use NFC authentication to reassure customers, the harder purveyors of fake products are going to have to work in order to hoodwink consumers that they are buying real items.
Maria&Donato are manufacturers of high end, crafted leather goods, included handbags. Having incorporated NFC authentication into their product range, Maria&Donato's product development director, Javier Villaverde, explained why the step was so important: “We consider each of our Maria&Donato handbags to be works of art and, in that regard, product authentication is an important part of the customer experience."
Adding value to white goods
While they might not be classed as luxury goods, items such as washing machines, microwaves, fridges and freezers are also typically in high price ranges. That means that manufacturers can benefit from NFC authentication, which can be enabled with a simple sticker which is affixed to the product. As with luxury goods, consumers can take reassurance from the confirmation that a) their product is real, and manufactured by the same company as the brand it bears, and b) that the product is new, and not pre-owned, if advertised as such. Along with authentication, there are, of course, many other advantages of NFC for appliances. With a simple swipe of a smart phone, settings, instructions and service diagnostics can be checked.
What we have seen in recent months is that the possibilities are, literally, endless for NFC authentication. If you have a product, and you want to ensure consumers can rely on its authenticity, then NFC is the natural choice. CilkGenie is a company which developed a wine authentication app which also offers the benefit of brand messaging. That means that not only can consumers ensure that their wine is the real thing, but they can also read more information about it, directly from the company which retails it. The app was demonstrated at the Global Secure Summit which took place in Istanbul. The background to wine authentication is somewhat familiar - European wine exporters had been struggling to combat counterfeiters who were believed to be targeting the lucrative Chinese market.
Leading the way in healthcare
In healthcare, too, NFC authentication can be an essential way of verifying that pharmaceuticals and other medical products are not counterfeit. But perhaps it is product identification, where NFC's role has proved most valuable. Smart NFC labels which are securely stuck on or embedded in medicine packaging, such as vials, are offering both medical professionals and patients a raft of benefits. Tablets, pills and liquids can often have a similar appearance, and so the ability to identify them quickly and easily is a distinct advantage when it comes to the distribution, prescription, and consumption of medicine.
As is usually the case with NFC, product identification in healthcare can be augmented with a range of other functions. Contactless NFC tags are able to provide patients with product information at the swipe of a smart phone. Medical devices equipped with NFC tags, such as autoinjectors, can also record patient use over an extended period of time.
And it isn't just products in healthcare which are being more easily identified thanks to NFC - the patients are too! Identification shields embedded with NFC can be worn directly on the patient's skin, and are proven to be reliable and secure. These shields could increasingly come to replace wristbands, which are thought to be more error prone in healthcare settings such as hospitals. In busy environments where efficient organisation and logistics are essential, NFC is providing new solutions which are unsurpassed in their simple effectiveness.
In a way, access control is a form of product identification and authentication - ensuring that the right people are able to access the right things. So perhaps it is no surprise that NFC is excelling in this area, too. From controlling access to different parts of a building or outdoor site, to automating access to machinery - it can all be done with the simple swipe of a smart phone. That means in the future, we could be kissing good bye to keys or lanyards, and replacing them with NFC readers such as smart phones, NFC wristbands, and NFC wearables such as jewellery and watches.
It all adds up to a solution which is more secure, more discreet, and more convenient. On premises where proving credentials is an important part of security, as well as health and safety, NFC is not only a more effective solution - in many cases, it is the budget friendly option.
Access control is one of the sectors where NFC made early inroads. As far back as 2011, companies involved in access control had hit upon its advantages, and were excited by the possibilities. Speaking to the Security Info Watch platform, Ayman S. Ashour, Identive Group's CEO, sung the praises of NFC as a massive industry game changer.
Mr Ashour said: “NFC is becoming an important check-box in vendor selection for many of our customers. We are beginning to see NFC creating new markets for our integrators in residential, hospitality and other environments wishing to make access more convenient for people while lowering the overall credential costs.”
Jason Hart, Executive Vice President, Identity Management and Cloud Solutions at the same company, outlined the broad mix of sectors for which NFC access control makes sense. He commented: ”We are absolutely seeing demand for NFC at the door, coming from small pockets within both corporate and government customers who wish to simplify physical and logical access with ‘tap to enter’ and ‘tap to log in.’ Residential and hospitality are among the larger near-term market opportunities."
If there is one common denominator which binds the various NFC identification and authentication uses together, it could be the ability to increase effectiveness and efficiency at no sacrifice to convenience. In many cases, not only does NFC provide a more secure and reliable solution to organisations, it also does so in a manner which is less time consuming, and more cost effective.
According to the NFC Forum, there will be some 2.7 billion hand sets in use by the end of the year. That means that the world has never been better equipped to interact with NFC products. NFC technology is no longer an innovation on the cutting edge. It is increasingly an essential solution which is helping a large cross section of industries to streamline processes and get better at what they do - whether the end user is the consumer of a commercial product, or a patient, this can only be a good thing.