What is RFID? A ground-breaking identification technology


RFID (radio frequency identification) is an identification technology that enables fully automatic and massive tracking of products, assets, people, animals and more.

It is a ground-breaking tool for uniquely identifying, tracking, tracing, and analyzing product or asset flows at every stage of the supply chain. By wirelessly reading the data encoded in RFID tags, it becomes possible to remotely monitor the stream of goods and gain valuable insight from item’s status, inventory, and condition.

RFID is the foundation technology of IoT

RFID is a foundational part of IoT, playing a crucial role in its future development and characterized by an exponential growth over the recent years.

Every year more than 35 billion objects become connected thanks to an RFID tag, paving the way for the Internet of Things and a smarter and better connected world.

How does it work? The components of an RFID system

The components of an RFID system

An RFID system is based on three core components: tags, readers/writers and software (middleware and dashboard).

The RFID tag is composed by a microchip and an antenna. The tag can be attached to single products, packages, shipping units, returnable assets etc.

The readers/writers provide power to the tags. Any tag in the read range of the reader is automatically empowered and automatically sends information - as for example its serial number - to the device.

All this data is then collected by the RFID software (middleware) that aggregates the data and take care of the software integration with any ERP.

What are the benefits? RFID over barcodes

RFID over barcodes

As opposed to barcodes and any other auto-ID technology, RFID tags are distinguished by a unique, not cloneable serial number and can be scanned automatically, simultaneously and without line of sight.

When leveraged to its full potential, RFID identification and tracking can revolutionise the way businesses operate through instantaneous remote monitoring, rapid stocktaking, and real-time security updates.

RFID main features

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    Unique identification

    As opposed to barcodes and any other auto-ID technology, RFID tags are distinguished by a unique, not cloneable serial number enabling the verification of product/asset authenticity. Applying an RFID tag to an item means assigning to that specific item a unique digital identity

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    Real-time, automatic, and massive reading

    RFID obviates the need to scan each item one by one in order to read the data. Numerous RFID tags can be scanned automatically and at once with very high accuracy, which greatly reduces the time required to carry out stocktaking, during inbound/outbound processes etc.

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    Reading without line of sight

    RFID tags can be scanned simultaneously in hundreds and without line of sight, meaning the tags don’t need to be visible to be read and can be scanned also if positioned in closed boxes or places difficult to access. This enables individual assets to be tracked with high accuracy throughout the supply chain.

What is RFID used for? RFID revolutionising businesses

RFID revolutionising businesses

Retail firms were among the earliest adopters of RFID technology, but since then, leaders from across a spectrum of industries have discovered the ways in which RFID can benefit their business.

We have worked with and support a huge range of industry sectors, including fashion, healthcare, retail, pharmaceutical, industrial, manufacturing and logistics.

RFID has an ever-growing list of use-cases, many of which have revolutionised industry processes from shop-floor management to production and post-sale customer care.

Frequently asked questions

How many types of RFID tags are there?
There exists a wide range of different RFID tags, from adhesive labels, flag tags, price tags, anti-tamper RFID labels, to hard tags or special tags developed for challenging applications. Each tag is characterized by specific features suitable for specific use cases. The selection of the tags must always be determined by the usage and application.
What are the frequency bands normally used for RFID technology?
RFID tags communicate data thanks to four different frequency bands: LF (Low Frequency) band, HF (High Frequency) band, UHF (Ultra High-Frequency) band and the microwave band. The choice of one frequency over the other depends on the use case implied.
Please flick and have a look.
Communication band LF HF/NFC UHF Microwave
Frequency to 135KHz 13.56MHz 860 to 960MHz 2.45GHz
Communication method Magnetic field communication Magnetic field communication Electronic field communication Electronic field communication
Communication range to 10cm to 10cm to several m to 3m
Directionality Wide Wide Medium Narrow
Effect of metal Medium Large Large Large
Effective of water Small Small Medium Large
Application examples Keyless entry Public type IC card, security control Stock control, asset management, etc
UHF or NFC tag, which one to choose?
Choosing between NFC and UHF complete depends on the utilization and application. An NFC (Near Field Communication) tag requires close-up reading (reading range up to 10cm) while UHF tags have a reading range of up to 15 meters. NFC tags are recommended in cases where a quick exchange of digitized information is required and where it is possible to have the tag and reader in proximity, as for instance in mobile payments with smart phones or for access authentication for doors or offices etc. UHF tags on the other hand allow for massive readings useful for quick stocktaking, track and trace of several items at once, or for reading at a longer range etc.
Are there any batteries in the tags? How long battery life?
Tags may be active or passive: Active RFID tags possess their own power source (typically batteries that last between 2-5 years), while passive RFID tags have no battery. The passive tags are activated thanks to the electromagnetic waves from the reader. Being without batteries, passive tags are much smaller and can be used semi-permanently.
From what distance can the RFID tags be read?
The read range of RFID tags depends on the typology of the tags, whether the tag is active or passive, and on the antenna and chip design. The read range of active RFID tags is up to 150 meters, while the read range of UHF tags normally is up to 15 meters. The type of RFID reader, the power set on the reader, the type of antenna, surrounding interferences etc. are also impacting the read range.
Does RFID exclude the use of Barcodes?
Absolutely not. RFID and barcodes are not in opposition and do not exclude one another. On the contrary, it is possible to combine and implement both by for example printing a barcode on the RFID tag.