NFC tags have a typical range of a couple of centimeters when interacted with by a desktop NFC device or an NFC enabled phone (Android, iPhone…). NFC should generally be used for use cases in which the device can physically touch the NFC tag. Many think of NFC as a touch or tap action. NFC should generally not be used for use cases which require interaction at a distance; UHF RFID is the more appropriate tag technology for long range RF interaction.
Factors that effect the performance of an NFC interaction are complex and subject to environmental differences, but include:
- NFC device power
- NFC device antenna shape, size and tuning
- NFC chip type
- NFC tag antenna material, shape, size and tuning
- NFC tag materials (plastic, paper, adhesive, ferrite, epoxy, silicon…)
- The data and communication between the NFC device and NFC tag
It is a best practice to test the real world performance of the NFC deployment as a part of upfront design and testing before full scale deployment to ensure the performance meets project expectations.
It is important to understand that the close range of NFC is a benefit, and not a limitation when used appropriately. NFC is designed to capture intention, not to passively capture proximity. For example, NFC can capture if a customer is looking at a specific product in retail, vs. walking through the aisle on the way to another part of the store. If NFC’s range is an issue for your use case, reconsider if you are using the appropriate tag technology.
One exception to the close range requirement of NFC is NFC chips that use the ISO 15693 protocol; these are under the NFC Forum Type 5 tag types. These NFC chips are capable of interaction at distances up to 1 meter, but only when used with specialized hardware. You often see these deployed at ski resorts, game parks, concerts and other locations that can have large fixed NFC devices. When ISO 15693 chips are used with standard desktop NFC readers and NFC enable phones, they do not have much additional range.