NFC looks to score big in cars

  • 06-Mar-2015 11:00 EST

Broadcom’s chip could help make NFC a common technology for personalizing key fobs and expanding the role of smart phones in vehicles.

Near field communication (NFC) appears poised to expand beyond cell phones to automotive applications. Chipmakers are unveiling devices that will form the basis of systems that will help pair phones, personalize settings, and unlock doors.

The short range communication technology, used for “tap to pay” transactions among other applications, has become common in smart phones. Some semiconductor suppliers predict that it will soon become commonplace in cars.

“NFC is the next technology used in mobile products to move into the automotive environment,” said Richard Barrett, Wireless Connectivity Director at Broadcom. “It’s already turning the corner, [and] deployments are beginning.”

Market researchers concur, noting that consumer applications should see rapid growth from a solid base. Transparency Market Research predicts a 43% growth rate through 2019, expanding from $1.07 billion globally in 2012.

Broadcom, which recently unveiled a chip that trims both component count and board space by 30%, is far from alone in the automotive market. NXP Semiconductors and STMicroelectronics are ranked as the leading overall suppliers of chips for phones. They can easily expand into autos from that base. Several other automotive chipmakers are also making moves.

Melexis has developed NFC devices for passive keyless entry and partnered with Freescale to develop a reference design for wireless charging. Analog integrated circuit and sensor maker ams AG last fall unveiled an NFC development kit and interface software stack that’s compatible with the Android, Linux, Windows 7, and Windows 8 operating systems.

There are several uses for NFC.

“It’s useful for pairing phones, which is still a big concern for OEMs,” Barrett said. “It can launch media and when it’s linked to navigation systems, addresses can be transferred from the phone to the vehicle’s nav.”

The low power requirements of phones also make the technology useful for key fobs. NFC devices can unlock doors and store user profiles for settings such as seat positions and radio stations. It also facilitates data sharing with cell phones.

“NFC key fob technology provides an affordable way to enable car manufacturers to customize the driver experience according to local requirements and to provide drivers with a way to access data about their vehicle from their smart phone,” said Paula Hunter, the NFC Forum’s Executive Director. “NFC combined with Bluetooth and a smartphone enables the key fobs and custom apps to be used to let drivers know when to refuel or get an oil change and indicate the location of a vehicle, even when the driver is away from his/her car.”

NXP made remote keyless entry one of its focal areas at CES 2015 in January.

“NFC is ideal when flexible access solutions are required such as car sharing, car rental, social sharing, fleet management,” said Rainer Lutz, Senior Global Marketing Manager for NXP.

Though NFC may replace Bluetooth for pairing devices, it’s not expected to reduce Bluetooth’s role.

“NFC and Bluetooth are complementary,” Hunter said. “NFC works at close range and only when the user initiates action using its simple tap interface. Bluetooth works over greater distances and can act as a location generator, broadcasting via peer-to-peer connections.”

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