You’ve probably heard of NFC, which of course stands for Near Field Communication. It’s basically a method of communication between smartphones (or between smartphones and… other things) which allows the user to simply bump their handset against a compatible device to exchange data. It’s all the rage in new handsets, with all the big manufacturers jumping onboard. Engadget reported that 30 million NFC phones shipped in 2011, and estimate that this number could reach 700 million by 2016.

Currently, if you’re dying to get your hands on NFC technology, you can find it in handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the BlackBerry Curve 9380 and the LG Optimus Vu. These are all pretty high-end handsets, but you don’t have to splash the cash to get your mitts on NFC; Nokia have released a few budget-ish phones with the technology included, such as the Nokia 700 and the Nokia 701. More recent handsets with the technology onboard include the HTC One X, the Sony Xperia Ion, and even budget models like the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2.

So, now that we know what it is and how to get our greedy hands on it, what’s it actually for? Well, other than the obvious ‘data exchange’ answer, one of the big ideas getting batted around is using NFC technology for instant payments. So rather than having to get your debit card out every time you want to pay for something, you’ll just be able to whip your phone out and scan it in, a little like the way Londoners use an Oyster card. This has been talked of for quite a while, but it’s beginning to look like the wheels are finally in motion to actually do something about it, in the form of Bump Pay.

Bump Pay is a new app which allows users to type in the amount of money that they want to send to a friend and then simply ‘bump’ their handsets together to send it via Paypal. It’s only available on iOS at the moment, but it will no doubt be extended to Android in the near future. Bump say that their app is primarily designed to make paying friends back for small things – splitting dinners or paying for petrol money – simpler, faster, and easier. Bump Pay has already been downloaded by over 80 million users, which may well be an indication that NFC technology is set to take off when it gets going properly in the UK.

However, whether it will get going properly in the UK is anyone’s guess. There’s been talk for months about installing NFC payment facilities in place around London in time for the 2012 Olympics – which, might we remind The Powers That Be, are mere months away now – and yet there’s still no sign of NFC payments being possible anytime soon. The Galaxy S3 has just been tipped to be the official phone for the Olympics, and will benefit from NFC thanks to Android Ice Cream Sandwich, but without mobile payments this might be a missed opportunity for Samsung.

While Near Field Communication is a great innovation when trading monies between friends, it remains doubtful whether the UK is capable of getting itself together enough to install NFC facilities this side of Christmas, never mind the summer.