What is RFID

Written by Goetz


Radio Frequency Identification, or short RFID, is a term describing identification technologies using radio waves. Unlike visual identification technologies, radio waves can travel through many materials, enabling identification without the need for a line of sight.

RFID based solutions can efficiently identify a large number of individual items, such as products, workpieces, tools, assets, boxes, linen or garments. Animal identification and library systems also rely on RFID for traceability.

Radio frequency identification technology has a long history, dating back to 1945, when a passive listening device, energised and activated by waves from an outside source, was developed in the Soviet Union. Most RFID tags today are passive tags, receiving their energy through radio waves, enabling them to transmit data stored on the tag chip to a reader device. Battery assisted tags are used in some speciality applications to increase range or log additional data, cost, and limited shelf life of batteries, however, are prohibitive for most applications.

What about the different Frequencies?

Most common in RFID today are three frequency ranges:

  • Low Frequency, or LF
  • High Frequency of HF
  • Ultra High Frequency or UHF

For LF, HF and UHF, you can find ISO standards for frequencies and the communication between the tag and reader. ISO, as well as other organisations such as GS1, have also released tag data standards (TDS). The most prominent TDS is the electronic product code (EPC) from GS1.

Today you will find most apparel applications using UHF, many animal identification solutions still rely on LF and most library applications use HF technology.

What are the major industry initiatives for RFID?

The RAIN Alliance is an industry initiative to provide a consumer-friendly name to the GS1 UHF Gen2 protocol, ISO/IEC 18000-63. This technology is most commonly used for item-level identification of consumer goods.

The NFC Forum is an industry initiative in near field communication, an HF technology using the ISO/IEC 18000-3 standard. This technology is most commonly used for payment technologies and customer experiences using NFC enabled smart phones.

Why is it called RAIN RFID and NFC?

We all know Wifi (Wifi Alliance) and Bluetooth (Bluetooth SIG) as technologies. Only very few people do however refer to these technologies through their protocol, e.g. IEEE 802.11 for Wifi or 802.15.1-2005 for Bluetooth 1.2. Industry alliances are formed to drive adoption and a branding that can be globally recognised.

What are the components of an RFID system?

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