Tutorial: RFID: Radio Frequency Identification


What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is an automatic identification technology (Auto-ID) that uses radio waves to identify physical objects, whether animate or inanimate. Therefore, the range of objects identifiable using RFID includes virtually everything on this planet, and beyond.

Fundamental Concepts about RFID

An RFID system consists of the following components from end-to-end:

  • Tag: A mandatory component
  • Reader: Also a mandatory component
  • Reader antenna: Another mandatory component; some current readers available today have built-in antennas
  • Controller: Again, a mandatory component. Most of the new-generation readers have this component built in.
  • Sensor, actuator, and “annunciator”: Optional components are needed to make external inputs and outputs possible
  • Host and software system: Theoretically, an RFID system can function independently without this component. Practically, an RFID system is close to worthless without this component.
  • Communication infrastructure

Advantages of the Technology

The advantages of RFID can be broadly categorized as current or future:

  1. Current: These advantages are immediately realizable with the technology products that exist today. The most important advantage of RFID is that it is “Contact-less”; an RFID tag can be read without any physical contact between the tag and the reader. Writable data: The data of a read-write (RW) RFID tag can be rewritten a large number of times. Absence of line of sight: A line-of-sight is generally not required for an RFID reader to read an RFID tag. There are other advantages as well, e.g., variety of read ranges, wide data-capacity range, support for multiple tag reads, ruggedness, and ability to perform “smart” tasks.
  2. Future: These advantages are either available in some form today or will be available as improved features in the future as the technology matures. A discussion of the future advantages of RFID is beyond the scope of this introductory tutorial

Limitations of the Technology

The current limitations of RFID include poor performance with RF-opaque and RF-absorbent objects. This is a frequency-dependent behavior. The current technology does not work well with these materials and, in some cases, fails completely.

RFID is also impacted by environmental factors. Surrounding conditions can greatly impact RFID solutions. The impact of hardware interference may also be an issue. An RFID solution can be negatively impacted if the hardware setup is not properly configured for the environmental conditions.

Limited penetrating power of the RF energy and immature technology are some of the limitations that have the kept the technology from spreading wider than it has.

Application Areas

The potential application of RFID technology is limited only to one’s imagination. Although a popular belief holds that RFID is best suited to supply-chain management or consumer packaged goods industries, the range of current RFID applications goes far beyond these areas. In fact, a variety of established RFID application types have already been deployed successfully in real-world environments. It has been used in the military, Medicare, factories, Super Malls, and a host of other places.

Privacy Concerns

Not surprisingly, privacy issues surrounding RFID represent a significant concern. After all, when a new technology is invented and is in the process of being developed, it must be analyzed from several viewpoints to determine whether and how its use will impact society. Consumer advocacy groups worry that RFID misuse might lead to the tracking of individuals, resulting in a loss of privacy.

RFID versus Bar Code

RFID is currently being touted as a “better bar code” and “smart bar code.” The media regularly proclaims that the days of bar code are numbered and that RFID will replace bar codes “soon.” In fact, RFID does have some clear-cut advantages over bar code, but bar codes also offer some clear-cut advantages over RFID. Unfortunately, in the media enthusiasm over RFID, the strengths of bar code are often ignored or misrepresented. As a result, the belief that bar codes are a sure loser to RFID has started to take shape. This belief is not founded on facts.

The RFID Strategy

An RFID strategy provides a roadmap to use the technology aligned with an enterprise’s strategic vision and goals. For example, a business that strives to be a model of efficiency could use RFID to streamline its operations. An RFID strategy is strongly recommended for a large enterprise. A smaller scale company may also benefit from such a strategy. An RFID strategy also shows the extent to which a business is ready to use RFID within itself.

A one-size-fits-all strategy is generally not possible, which means that businesses must create their own unique RFID strategy, determine how RFID can create value that is aligned with its strategic directions, factor in such external drivers as meeting customer RFID mandates, all within the tolerable cost/risk ranges, and so on.

Creating Business Justification for RFID

Business justification is strongly recommended before rolling out RFID in an enterprise because it enables you to accomplish the following fundamental goals:

  • Provide objective data about the benefits of RFID. Objective data enables you to determine whether to use the technology. Indeed, if RFID shows substantial benefits, objective data might accelerate adoption of RFID in the business. Business justification will also build realistic expectations of the technology.
  • Maximize return on investment (ROI). Through a careful analysis of business cases, you can quantify the benefits and the resources needed to implement an RFID solution. You can select the areas that offer the maximum ROI as the potential candidates for RFID use.

Designing and Implementing an RFID Solution

Just how challenging can it be to design and implement a nontrivial RFID solution? Someone who has not implemented such an RFID system might think, “Not much at all! After all, what else do you need besides a few readers, antennas, cables, and some tags to build an RFID system?” The short answer is this: plenty. Suffice to say that designing and implementing a real-world, nontrivial RFID solution is not easy. Therefore, if you are expecting to use a plug-and-play RFID solution for your business needs, be forewarned: The unique needs of each business and the involvement of many context-dependent variables influence the appropriateness of an RFID solution. No single one-size-fits-all RFID solution exists. Depending on your business needs, you can find several solution components commercially available today from hardware and software vendors as well as integrators. The task is to know which of these components will provide the optimum solution and how you need to put these elements together to achieve the desired results.


A discussion of RFID technology would not be complete without a mention of the standards that seek to regulate different aspects of the technology and the organizations that set them. EPC and ISO lead the way in the process of defining standards for RFID. However there are other standards and protocols like R2T protocol, T2R protocol, anti collision protocols, and TTF protocol to name some.


RFID is a technology that can not be ignored. Whether you are in telecommunications, IT, or any of the following industries, you will be impacted by RFID:

  • RFID hardware, software, and solution vendors and related professional services companies
  • Managed services providers, outsourced RFID solutions and application providers, and RFID service bureau operators
  • Personnel responsible for automating Supply Chain Management (SCM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other business processes
  • Healthcare management personnel responsible for tracking patients, staff personnel, equipment, inventory, and other critical resources
  • Retailers and personnel responsible for merchandise inventory and ordering processes, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Merchandise tracking and fraud prevention
  • Providers of value-added applications and services such as metering, telemetry, telematics, and sensor applications, inventory control and tracking such as merchandise control, asset tracking and recovery such as computing equipment monitoring, tracking parts moving through a manufacturing process, tracking goods in a supply chain, and payment systems
  • RFID Hardware Manufacturing companies
  • Companies interested in optimizing their RFID business process strategies
  • Venture Capitalist and Startup companies

How to Learn More about It


  • Check out the Eogogics Short Range Wireless curriculum for courses on RFID, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and WiFi.


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