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Basic HW details from an FCC ID

Saturday, February 26, 2011

While testing out the new PN532 NFC/RFID Breakout Board, we tried comparing the range of our board with some of the commercial NFC devices we have in the office that are also based on the PN53x family.  It's not really fair to publish any numeric comparison since, particularly with RF, there are always a number of compromises and choices to be made between physical size of the device/antenna, power consumption, etc., all of which change with the intended use of the device.  Suffice it to say that we're extremely happy with the performance of our own open-source board thanks to the great work of Roel Verdult and colleagues from the libnfc project, but obviously a small USB-stick device like the SCL3711 (SCM Microsystems) is going to have different perfomance characteristics than a much larger antenna like that found on our own board or the commercial ACR122 reader (Advanced Card Systems).  They don't have the same intended use and so comparing metrics like absolute range isn't particularly fair.

The SCL3711 in particular, though, is an interesting device since it packs what should be a fairly 'large' antenna into a very small package.  We were kind of curious how they accomplished this, but weren't all that keen on pulling apart the only device we had lying around since we were still using it for testing purposes.  Thankfully, most commercial devices have a little number on them that often provides a window into what's inside your device without having to pull it apart yourself: the FCC ID.

As was recently mentionned over at Adafruit (Symbols and FCC IDs), itself a repost of a response over at ars technica (Ask Ars: What are those symbols on the back of the iPhone?), you can often use the FCC ID to find photos of the PCB or inside of the device, along with test-results and a number of potentially useful technical details.  As an added bonus, if you're interested in the different tests that devices need to go through to pass certification for agencies like the FCC, spending a few minutes reading through the documentation for a few products can be very illuminating.

If you look at the back of the SCL3711 (a small USB-stick sized 13.56MHz NFC/RFID reader based on the PN533), you'll see the FCC ID MBPSCL3711-0200

SCL3711 with FCC ID

The first three letters ("MBP" in this case) represents the "Grantee Code", and the remaining letters and numbers are the "Product Code" (SCL3711-0200).  By entering these two values in the FCC's FCC ID Search Form (http://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid/) you can probably find some useful information about the product in question.

FCC ID Search Form

The initial search results for the SCL3711's Grantee Code and Product Code can be seen below, showing two different entries:

Sample FCC ID Search Results

Click on the first entry, we then get a list of publicly accessible documents associated with this product/FCC ID:

FCC ID Search Results

While we can't publish the photos for copyright reasons, you can see photos of the front and back of the PCB in "Intenral Photos" (sic.) where the antenna and 27.12MHz crystal are clearly visible on the back, and the PN533, inductors, antenna matching network, etc. on the top.  "Test Setup Photos" contains a number of interesting photos if you're curious about the testing process as well.  While most companies request confidentiality for the schematics, etc., you can still learn a lot about different devices through the FCC database without having to pull your devices apart.  Though, of course, pulling things apart can be enlightening as well, particularly if you're interested in how the physical assembly of common devices is made!

In this particular case, the PCB is quite well layed out, which isn't surprising since the device has decent performance for something so small. Particularly for RF devices, using the FCC ID can often provide a starting point to your own antenna design.  If you're just getting started and wondering how other people have solved problems like fitting large antennas into small packages, this can sometimes be a great place to start.

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Using libnfc with the PN532 (Linux)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

While there is no dedicated project page (yet) for the new NFC PN532 Breakout Board, if you want to test it out using the open-source libnfc library in Linux, the following steps will help you to get started with the included libnfc examples.  This tutorial was tested using Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop.

Step 1: Download the latest version of libnfc (ex. "libnfc-1.4.1.tar.gz") and extract the contents

$ wget http://libnfc.googlecode.com/files/libnfc-x.x.x.tar.gz
$ tar -xvzf libnfc-x.x.x.tar.gz
$ cd libnfc-x.x.x

Step 2: Configure libnfc for PN532 and UART*

$ ./configure --with-drivers=pn532_uart --enable-serial-autoprobe

*Note: libnfc can also be built in debug mode by adding '--enable-serial-autoprobe' (minus the single quotes) to the configure options

libnfc ./configure results

Step 3: Build and install libnfc

$ make clean
$ make
$ make install

Step 4: Check for installed devices

$ cd examples
$ ./nfc-list

Step 5: Try to read a 13.56MHz card (mifare, etc.)

$ ./nfc-poll

nfc-poll results

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New Product: PN532 NFC/RFID Breakout

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PN532 NFC Breakout BoardWe just added another new wireless board to the website, the PN532 NFC Breakout.  These breakout boards make it easy to get started with 13.56MHz RFID/NFC.  The PN532 from NXP can be used as a basic RFID reader, for peer-to-peer communication, or to emulate a variety of 13.56MHz RFID tags (turning the board into an RFID tag itself).

If you're interested in NFC or ISO14443, we'd recommend taking a look at libnfc, a very well-written and open-source NFC library that supports this chip out of the box -- just hook up 3.3V, GND, TXD and RXD to any USB to UART adapter and you're ready to go.

There's currently no project page for this board, and not much in the way of tutorials, but the forum over at the libnfc website has a lot of helpful information, and we'll try to add some basic tutorials and code samples in the coming months.

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