Intel gets serious about NFC, signs deal for chip technology

Chipmaker Intel (s intc) has been getting some NFC religion lately as it looks to incorporate the short-distance radio technology into its chipsets. The latest sign is an agreement with French NFC chip maker Inside Secure, which will provide NFC technology and products to Intel. The terms of the deal were not announced.

Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group will get access to Inside Secure’s software, firmware and core hardware technology to build devices with NFC support inside. Inside Secure provides a MicroRead NFC controller and SecurRead secure element chip along with an Open NFC protocol stack.

The partnership comes on the heels of Intel’s decision to upgrade its status in the NFC Forum last week from principal to sponsor, the highest level. That gives Intel a seat on the board of directors. Intel also announced last month that it was partnering with MasterCard to enable PayPass support(s ma) in Ultrabooks and future PCs so users will be able to tap their MasterCard on a laptop to enter in credit card information, an alternative to storing the credit card information on the device.

Intel has not disclosed what it specifically plans to do with Inside Secure’s chips, but the MasterCard example shows one potential type of use. Having NFC technology will also be important as Intel tries to make a run at providing smartphone and tablet chipsets to manufacturers, which are moving to include NFC support in upcoming devices.

“NFC is gaining traction in many markets as one of the most convenient ways to use consumer electronic devices for payments and retail commerce transactions, for access to facilities and information, and a host of other applications,” said Aicha Evans, the VP and general manager of Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group, in a statement. “We look forward to working with Inside to develop and bring to market a range of exciting connectivity solutions for mainstream consumer products that incorporate NFC features.”

Charles Walton, the chief operating officer for Inside Secure, told me the Intel deal is another sign of how NFC is poised to grow quickly next year. He told me in October that Inside Secure has already shipped 10 million NFC chips this year, with the potential for hundreds of millions of NFC chip shipments next year by the industry as a whole.

“This is like the deal of the year in the NFC space. You have a mainstream company like Intel that is really taking what is a pretty broad and deep view of NFC. This is the start of NFC starting to go very mainstream,” Walton told me.

He said NFC could also be deployed in kiosks that are built with Intel chips to enable payments. But the technology could be used for more than just payments. PCs could leverage the technology for quick transfers of information and content between other devices, Walton said.

NFC has been largely viewed through the lens of mobile devices, and that is one direction Intel is likely to go with the technology as it looks to sell more chipsets for smartphones and tablets. But Intel is also showing how NFC won’t be limited to those devices and can be employed in PCs as well. Having Intel push the technology could be a catalyst for NFC, which is still outside the consciousness of most U.S. consumers.