RFID technology: some basic facts

RFID or Radio Frequency Identification is the new technology being talked about for product identification and data storage that can be used when barcodes fail. It is based on the same concept as the barcode, except the data encoding method is different, as barcodes require line-of-sight optical scanning. As an automatic identification technology, it reads encrypted data with the help of radio frequency waves. Its biggest advantage is that you don’t necessarily need a tag or label to be visible to read the stored data.

RFID tags fall into two categories, active or passive. Active tags have an internal battery with read and write option, allowing data to be modified. The tag memory size is variable and some tags have a memory space of up to 1 MB. Passive RFID tags do not have an external power source and instead use power generated by the reader. Therefore, they are lighter, cheaper, and have an unlimited shelf life, unlike active tags that have a ten-year shelf life. Passive RFID tags are programmed with a special set of data that cannot be changed and, being read-only, work like a license plate in a database.

Passive RFID tags have a low power integrated circuit connected to an antenna and protective packaging is used to enclose it depending on the application for which it is to be used. The IC has an onboard memory that stores data. The IC uses the antenna to receive and transmit information to an external reader, usually called an interrogator. Tags are also called inlays and transponders. In technical terms, an inlay is simply a label on a flexible substrate ready to become a smart label. The smart tag can extend the basic functionality of RFID by combining barcode technology and human readable information. Smart tags include an embedded sticker with an RFID tag inlay. Thus, they provide the benefits of read range and unattended label capability, with the flexibility and convenience of on-demand label printing.

RFID systems have variable frequency ranges and the frequency level decides its use for the applications. Its greatest asset is its non-line of sight and non-contact operation. Therefore, they can be read through fog and snow, heat and dust, and other harsh environmental conditions where barcodes or any other optical identification system would fail. Its high read speeds are another advantage despite the fact that RFID technology is more expensive.

Today, almost all RFID implementations are different due to performance requirements and cost factors, as well as signal transmission restrictions. They are used when barcodes are inadequate, but that does not mean that RFID technology will replace barcodes. The market is large enough for both of them to continue side by side.

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