RFID Identification: How Does it Work?

RFID identification, an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification Devices, is a technology that helps to identify objects or even people by using radio waves and a specialized equipment set. This equipment includes a transreceiver and an antenna to read and decode the radio frequency, and a reader or tag that receives and processes the radio frequency into digital information, or data, which can be used for tracking and inventory management purposes. While it is similar to barcode technology that also stores information or data within a label to be used for different purposes, RFID technology takes it a few steps further. Here we break down how RFID works as well as the various types of RFID tags that are available for use.

RFID 101

RFID is an automated protocol that reduces human contact and, therefore, human mistakes. The antenna provides a way to communicate as well as delivers the necessary energy to make the entire process work. It provides a cost-effective system for the long term because there is no need for batteries that eventually need to be replaced. The antennas can be hand-held or affixed to a surface. Although the process of “how it works” is relatively similar in terms of a RFID chip that transmits information, there are actually three different types of RFID identification tags:

  • Active RFID tags use a power source to transmit the radio waves and offer ways to transmit over longer distances and send greater amounts of data.
  • Passive RFID tags do not rely on internal power supply but, instead, use a RFID reader to send the data.
  • Semi-Passive RFID tags do use an internal power supply but do not broadcast their signal until they receive on from a RFID reader.

The RFID tag itself effectively can go beyond the capabilities of a barcode in its ability to work and produce accurate, in depth results. For example, its read time is faster because it does not have to resort to in-line reading of the information on a label or tag. That means the volume of information and number of tags that can be read is significantly higher as well. In addition, the tag doesn’t even have to be on the surface of an object or product in order to be read correctly. For these reasons and more, RFID is a technology being rapidly adopted by a range of industries seeking greater control of inventories and the supply chain process at large.

In Summary In summarizing the main components of how RFID identification works, here are the main points to remember:

  • The main technology uses radio waves to transfer information in digital format from one device to another.
  • This is an automated process that offers a way to transfer more data quickly and accurately than other technologies like barcodes do.
  • The primary types of RFID tags are active, passive, and semi-passive.


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