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BARCELONA, Spain — Cellphones are usually used to communicate with people far away. This year, they'll get the ability to do the opposite: communicate with things that are close enough to touch.
It may not sound immediately useful, but phones will get some surprising capabilities with the addition of chips for so-called Near Field Communications, a wireless technology with a range intentionally limited to just a few inches.
The phones will be able to talk to payment terminals designed for "smart cards," replacing credit and debit cards. They could be used as mass transit passes. You could tap two phones together to exchange contact information.
Or you could tap a "smart tag" on a poster, product or sticker to get your phone to do something, such as retrieving information from the Internet or placing a call to the product's customer support line. Yankee Group analyst Nick Holland likens these tags to the links that take us from Web page to Web page, only now they're in the real world.
Adding NFC is like adding a whole new capability on the level of GPS navigation or a camera, Holland said.
The industry has been talking about including NFC in phones for years, mainly to turn them into "electronic But at the world's largest cell-phone trade show, held last week in Barcelona, Spain, it was clear that the log-jam has loosened, in part because NFC chips are now cheaper. Millions of NFC-equipped phones will be in consumer hands in the U.S. and Europe before the end of the year.wallets." Beyond a few trials, nothing much has happened, except in Japan and Hong Kong, where these systems have caught on for mass-transit ticketing.