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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
New interface chip from ams drives down the cost of adding high data-rate NFC capability to microcontroller designs

Implementing instant, high-speed Near Field Communication (NFC) between two independent devices has been made easier and cheaper with the introduction of the AS3953 interface chip from ams AG (SIX: AMS), a leading worldwide designer and manufacturer of high-performance analog ICs for consumer & communications, industry & medical, and automotive applications.

The AS3953 offers a high data-rate interface between a NFC device such as a smartphone and any host microcontroller with a standard Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI).

Operating on energy harvested from an NFC reader’s RF emissions, the AS3953 NFiC® (Near Field Communications interface Chip) requires no external power source and at most one external component (a capacitor). The device enables system designers to add full bi-directional NFC capability at a total cost less than half that of a typical NFC reader implementation, which can require as many as 20 external components.

The AS3953 is fully compliant with NFC Forum specifications (NFCIP-1 target at 106kbps) and the ISO14443A industry standard (up to 848kbps, to Level 4). This means that it can be used in contactless smart cards and as an NFC Forum-compatible interface tag, and can establish instant communication with any NFC-enabled phone in close proximity (<10cm).

The AS3953 is expected to find uses in a wide variety of applications, including contactless passive programming of MCU-based systems, smart cards with displays, smart retail shelf labels, sensors and ultra low-power data loggers, medical devices, and secured NFC Bluetooth pairing.

It can also enable innovative new approaches to system designs by using an NFC-enabled smartphone as a display host and system controller for normally stand-alone devices, eliminating the requirement for the slave device to have its own display and processor.

The AS3953 features a configurable wake-up interrupt, enabling a zero-power system design while in shut down. It also contains a complete analog front end, 1kB of internal EEPROM, and a 4-wire SPI with a 32-byte FIFO. The device can draw up to 5mA of harvested energy from the external magnetic field, and includes an internal power management circuit that can supply harvested energy to the application. This makes the AS3953 ideal for use with battery-powered and portable microcontroller-based devices.

Rene Wutte, Marketing Manager at ams, maintains “The AS3953 creates a whole new category of NFC applications. It allows NFC functionality to be added to any application for a fraction of the cost of a full NFC reader, without complicating the design. This is now, for instance, the easiest and most affordable way to enable an application to communicate with a mobile phone.”

ams has also announced a new reference design developed in close cooperation with Epson. The design is for a complete passive solution for price labels and smart cards. It combines an Epson S1C17F57 microcontroller, which features a built-in driver for e-paper displays (64 channels), and the AS3953 NFiC® from ams. According to Manfred Wittmeir, IC Department Manager at Epson Europe Electronics GmbH, “Epson has a long track record of providing energy efficient semiconductors for various battery-driven products. The AS3953 enables us for the first time to build a complete passive solution without the need for an auxiliary power supply such as a battery, while implementing a standard NFC interface for exchanging data with our microcontroller. A simple design, it can be implemented quickly by engineers with no deep knowledge of the operation of NFC technology.”

Both the AS3953 and the passive e-paper demonstration design will be shown at the ams booth at Cartes 2012 in Paris (3D.105, November 6-8, Paris). They will also be on show at Electronica (Hall A4, stand 211, November 13-16, Munich).

Price & Availability

The AS3953 NFiC is available as a bare die or in a 10-pin, 3mm x 3mm MLPD package. The device is available for sampling now. It is priced at $1.59 for 1,000 pieces as a package, and $1.15 as a bare die.

Technical Support

A demonstration board for the AS3953 NFiC is available. For further information on the AS3953 or to request samples, please visit

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