RFID Technology

Is RFID for you?

RFID is a contactless technology capable of identifying and counting a diverse range of objects, without contact or line of sight. It enables automatic communication between objects and computers. The principle is similar to bar-code technology, where data is transferred quickly and accurately.

RFID relies on the use of small tags or 'smart labels', which can be attached to, or embedded within, a wide range of objects. These tags are generally 'passive', in that the electrical power for their operation is provided by an electronic 'reader' , which transfers information to and from a tag and a computing system. Active tags are also available but at a higher cost.  Active tags offer a larger read range.  

Such information may simply be a unique (and unalterable) identification code, or more sophisticated data that can be written wirelessly into the memory of individual tags, allowing each tagged object to store a small database that can be dynamically updated through a product's lifecycle.

Technical background

Radio frequency waves are electromagnetic (em) and range from 30kHz to 300GHz. Only certain frequency bands within this range (listed below) are available for licence-free RFID systems. These bands now support RFID tags and reading/writing solutions.

Band

LF
Low frequency

HF
High frequency

UHF
Ultra high frequency

Microwave

Frequency

30-300kHz

3-30MHz

300 MHz-3GHz

2-30 GHz

Typical RFID Frequencies

125-134 kHz

13.56 MHz

433 MHz or
865 - 956MHz
2.45 GHz

2.45 GHz

Approximate read range

less than 0.5 metre

Up to 1.5 metres

433 MHz = up to 100 metres
865-956 MHz = 0.5 to 5 metres

Up to 10m

Typical data transfer rate

less than 1 kilobit per second (kbit/s)

Approximately 25 kbit/s

433-956 = 30 kbit/s
2.45 =100 kbit/s

Up to 100 kbit/s

Characteristics

Short-range, low data transfer rate, penetrates water but not metal.

Higher ranges, reasonable data rate (similar to GSM phone), penetrates water but not metal.

Long ranges, high data transfer rate,
concurrent read of <100 items, cannot penetrate water or metals

Long range, high data transfer rate, cannot penetrate water or metal

Typical use

Animal ID
Car immobiliser

Smart Labels
Contact-less travel cards
Access & Security

Specialist animal tracking
Logistics

Moving vehicle toll

 

RFID printing

The use of RFID technology offers the following advantages over the more traditional forms of Auto ID technology:

  • RFID tags store large amounts of data
  • Many tags can be read simultaneously
  • Data can be written to the tags
  • Tags are reusable
  • Tags can function in extreme environmental conditions
  • Tags are more durable, unlike barcodes which can be peeled off

Download a Tag Frequency Comparison Chart.

RFID Applications

RFID technologies are being used for high-value goods and wherever the use of bar codes is difficult or impractical. The main obstacle to their widespread adoption has been the cost of implementing RFID systems (particularly the tags and labels). However, implementation costs are reducing as the technology becomes more mature. Consequently. the adoption of RFID systems for specific applications has been increasing.

RFID standards

A common misconception is that there are no standards in RFID. In fact, there are many well-established standards and others are still emerging. Standards are critical for many RFID applications, such as payment systems and tracking goods, or for reusable containers in open supply chains. A considerable amount of work has been carried out over the past decade by many organisations, including ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) and EPC Global to develop standards for different RFID frequencies and applications. Click here for a glossary of terms.

These standards address a wide range of issues, such as the communication between tags and readers; the way in which data is organised or formatted; general product compliance; and the use of standards on shipping labels.

A number of larger companies, particularly within the supply chain, are now implementing RFID within their businesses. This is raising awareness of RFID and is driving other organisations to consider how this technology could benefit their business.

Find out more by reading our articles and white papers.