How NFC Can Help Conference Attendees

This was originally published on, where I’m a semi-regularly contributing blogger.

The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets gives event organizers a lot more to think about than mobile websites and apps.

We’ve been reading and hearing for a while that Near Field Communication (NFC), a bi-directional type of radio frequency identification (RFID), is something event organizers should be paying attention to because it can potentially be leveraged to add value to the attendee and exhibitor experience. NFC can facilitate lead capture, audience engagement, room access control and, of course, mobile payments. T.J. Raphael covers NFC nicely in the article "NFC Lets Shows ‘Reach Out and Touch Someone’” (EXPO, March 2012).

Those of you already familiar with using quick response (QR) codes at events should consider a world in which no special app, camera, ideal lighting, nor patience were barriers to engagement any longer. Many of you already have a sense of what’s possible by using traditional one-way RFID badges and readers at your events—but imagine the level of engagement when your attendees and exhibitors have chips that can send and receive information wirelessly.

NFC Smartphones

A majority of your attendees and exhibitors will soon be toting these chips, since NFC-enabled smartphones are becoming a standard. Some forecasts suggest that 20 percent of smartphones with NFC capabilities will ship by 2014, and 50 percent will ship NFC-enabled by 2015.

We are approaching a tipping point with this technology. Indeed, pretty soon, event organizers can stop worrying about how to provision special embedded badges to attendees and exhibitors—and simply trust that they’ll bring their own on their smartphones. I think it’ll be attendee familiarity that will make NFC truly appealing at shows.

As the world continues its move towards mobile payments (i.e. with Google Wallet’s growing offerings—and the iWallet rumored to be on the way)—people will increasingly understand the phone to be a tool used to interact with services in both the physical and digital worlds.

You won’t have to work too hard to convince your audience to try NFC at your events in upcoming years. In fact, they may just expect it. Today’s possibilities are truly just the beginning.  Here are some things I look forwards to seeing more of.

Check-in Stations & Attendee Networking

Attendees who embrace location-based social media, like Foursquare, in the name of networking are also implicitly co-marketing the events and venues they check into.  Groups like "MadSci Labs” are making this easier and more natural to do.  They’ve developed RFID- and NFC-powered stations that make the act of the check-in as simple as a wave of a hand. You can conceivably have people check-in to your event, without relying on GPS, which may not be consistently reliable across venues. Speaking of Foursquare, they’re really pushing NFC forward. The app’s latest version for Android supports NFC, allowing users to "beam" their lists or visited venues with friends.

Help Transportation to Your Event

You may have read here on about the successful NFC test in Salt Lake City for attendees of the Smart Card Alliance 2012 Payment Summit. We should expect to see more of this as more major cities adopt mobile fare payment programs. 

In addition to mass transit, parking for attendees can be a huge incentive. This year’s Mobile World Congress highlighted the offerings of PaybyPhone , which leads me to speculate that, if you’re hosting an event in San Francisco, London, Ottowa, or a growing list of major cities, you may be able to take advantage of the NFC-enabled parking meters on behalf of your attendees. Perhaps free or discounted parking will be a standard attendee benefit one day.

Are you an event professional already planning or considering taking advantage of NFC at your show? Please share your thoughts or questions in the form of a comment below.