I recently got myself a TAP card. It’s Los Angeles county’s public transit card. Most large cities have adopted some form of card to make it quicker and easier for you to pay. The TAP card and other transit smart cards do much more. It’s called a TAP card because you simply tap it on a terminal using NFC, and you’re done. The feature that I found most useful is the ability to use it between different transit agencies within LA County. You can use the same card to take the Metro train to LAX that you do to take a bus in Long Beach.
That is the kind of thing a smart card using NFC can do that traditional magnetic strip cards, and even new cards with the gold contact chip, can’t. Because contactless smart cards can hold more than one piece of information, and have data quickly written to and rewritten, they have far more applications.
Smart cards are not a new technology. They have been in use by many businesses and public services like my new TAP card, which uses a variant of MIFARE chips introduced in 2008. This standard has seen worldwide adoption, and paying for your bus fare is just one of the many uses for these smart cards. You might even have one right now.
Maybe you use your smart card as an ID card. The smart card saves your ID inside, and when you need to access a locked room, you just wave your ID close to a reader pad by the door. If you try a door you don’t have access to it won’t open, because the card doesn’t have the access information stored on it. If you get a promotion, or sign up for a computer lab at school, the ID card can be quickly updated giving you access to those doors. We can see this in action when you have a retractable lanyard ID around your neck you quickly wave next to a door to open it.
A smart card can also be used as a rewards points card, a library card, an amusement park ticket, or a hotel key. Many hotels already use magnetic strip cards, but replacing them with an NFC smart card would allow you to use your hotel key as an event pass and shuttle pass all with one smart card. A hotel using smart cards could easily add an event ticket at the concierge desk. Your ticket is saved onto your hotel key.
Attendees of the 2017 CES expo got a taste of what a smart card can do. Your badge not only gave you access to the event, but allowed you to pre-purchase fare on the Las Vegas Monorail and load the ticket onto your event badge. This multi-purpose card could also be used to access bike-sharing services. Your CES badge was one card that could be used for separate applications. NPX Semiconductors, who own the MIFARE brand of smart card technologies, wanted to showcase how visitors to the show could more easily and efficiently utilize Las Vegas’ public transportation to get you to the event with the same badge you use to get in the event
Why am I just Hearing about this now?
Credit and Debit cards with gold contact chips are a type of smart card. NFC smart cards hold the advantage because they don’t have to be in physical contact with the terminal, and the data on the card can be added, re-written, and deleted from just a few inches away from the terminal.
No physical contact is a very popular feature in modern technology. It’s more well known as wireless technology. Televisions can now connect to your Wi-Fi network, and your phone can connect to your car via Bluetooth to play music, answer a phone call, and give you directions. Lightbulbs have even become wireless. Why would you get up to go touch the light switch when you can ask Siri, Alexa or Cortana to do it for you?
So why swipe a magnetic strip, or insert a chip card that you stare at waiting for it to say approved so you can remove it? You don’t have to with a smart card. With one wave, you can then use the same card ride the bus to work, and use it again to gain access to the server room with just a tap.