NFC and Bluetooth are two common short-range technologies used in our everyday lives.
What are they?
Both Bluetooth and NFC are very common technologies for communicating between two devices wirelessly over short distances. Most mobile devices include at least one, if not both, for transferring files, transacting, or connecting with other devices. However, the way they work and their characteristics are very different. So often, one would be better than the other for a specific purpose or engineering project. Let’s compare NFC vs Bluetooth in a nutshell.
Read on to learn about what each technology provides and how to identify which one is best for you.
Why are they so popular?
When you’re away from home and want to transfer a file from your device, or when you want to connect your headphones to listen to music at work without disturbing your colleagues, you would prefer a way to connect your device without the hassle of extra cables or adapters. That’s where NFC and Bluetooth come in. Both allow a device to share information and connect with devices wirelessly. Besides, they also have low power consumption, so using them will typically not drain your battery. However, they have a short range, so the devices in use should be nearby.
They use electromagnetic waves to share information from one device to another, be it a photo with friends on vacation, a song you want to stream, or even the contact card for your favorite pizza place. Also, they tend to be secure since they have an adequate level of encryption for the applications they are designed for, and the information packets could, in any case, only be detected by other nearby devices. Despite this, they have unique features that make them ideal for different applications. Let’s take a quick look at NFC vs Bluetooth so we can see which is better suited to your specific needs.
Bluetooth uses radio waves at 2.4GHz to tranfer data, just like Wi-Fi. It can easily send and receive all kinds of files at speeds of up to 20MB/s within a 10-meter range. Different devices, such as speakers, headphones, printers, and other smartphones, can be connected easily with Bluetooth. Users can stream data, share information, or even set up a multiplayer game using Bluetooth without further accessories. Besides, it’s pretty safe since it changes communication channels several times per second, which makes it difficult for someone to intercept and decipher information being transmitted. Also, its low power consumption makes it ideal for medical monitoring applications, wearables, electronic accessories, laptops, and mobile devices, as they all operate on batteries.
Bluetooth is preferred for wearable sensors such as heart rate monitors, glucometers, and oximeters that connect with a smartphone to store and visualize user data and more. It’s also preferred for connecting smart or wireless accessories, including headphones, a party’s wireless speaker, and smartwatches that display notifications and let you answer calls. But let’s not forget one of the most common uses: sharing files wirelessly between devices. Of course, you can use WhatsApp in most cases, but if you want a speedy and safer way to share files without mobile data, Bluetooth is the way to go. You can transfer PDFs, work documents, photos from your last trip, and even videos with your family and friends. Bluetooth is handy for this type of data sharing.
NFC (Near Field Communication)
Unlike Bluetooth, NFC uses 13.56MHz radio waves and has a range of only 10cm. That’s right, ten centimeters. However, this gives it an edge over other communication technologies. It’s a much safer way to share information and files since a third-party device would have to be very close in order to intercept a transmission. Sure, there are ways to detect NFC from a longer distance, but usually, they aren’t practical. Another advantage of NFC over Bluetooth is its lower power consumption than Bluetooth. Thus, its impact on a mobile device’s battery life would not be something to worry about. Finally, NFC has a data transmission rate between 120Kbits/s and 450 Kbits/s, which is low compared to most wireless communications, but not by much.
Thanks to its design, NFC is great for contactless payments, identifying objects that have an NFC chip, and for chip business cards. That’s not all. If you want to transfer a single, small file quickly between two mobile devices, NFC lets you do it without having to pair them (unlike Bluetooth which might even require several attempts to successfully pair a device).
Which should I use? NFC vs Bluetooth
Now that we know more about the unique characteristics and applications of each technology, let’s get down to deciding which is better for a specific use. NFC offers a data transmission rate of between 120Kbit/s to 450 Kbit/s, so transferring videos or any large file (larger than 3MB, for example) is out of the question. Bluetooth, on the other hand, achieves up to 20Mbits/s. This is about 100 times the speed you can get from NFC, but it requires pairing, where the device is searched, selected, and transmitted, and it can get worse if it is the first time that two devices are connected.
Therefore, if you will share one or several files where we talk about tens of MB, Bluetooth is the best option. If you need a device that runs on a battery and must send information farther than a few centimeters, but less than 10m, Bluetooth wins again. However, if you want to share information over a very short distance, safely, and using virtually no energy, NFC is the clear winner.
There you have it, a short uptake on comparing NFC vs Bluetooth for everyday usage. Feel free to share your point of view in the comments section below. If you are interested in other communications technologies, check out this article comparing Optic Fiber v.s. Radiofrequency. Or, you can check out some videos on how to use an ESP32 module to send an email and other great tutorials on this site.