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Confused about the difference between RFID and NFC? We have all the answers.

There seems to be some confusions between the two technologies RFID and NFC. Whilst they’re similar in a lot of ways, there are also some differences between the two technologies and we try to outline how they’re different and how your business might benefit from using these technologies. 

What is RFID

RFID stands for Radio-Frequency Identification and is a way to read information stored in a tag or label via the use of radio waves. RFID systems are made up of three major components – the tag or sticker, the antenna and the reader.

The RFID Tag
RFID tags come in a wide range of styles, shapes and sizes, from basic stickers and labels through to wristbands, keyfobs, pens, etc.

The RFID Antenna
The antenna is what broadcasts and collects information from the RFID label and sends this to the RFID reader. The fact that RFID technology uses an antenna usually means it will get a longer range of effective readings than NFC.

The RFID Reader
I’ve you’ve ever been to a vet and seen a dog have it’s microchip scanned, you’ve seen RFID in action. The reader simply picks up and displays the information that’s been encoded in the RFID chip, label or sticker.

What is RFID used for?

RFID is used for a wide range of solutions. We’ve given a very basic example above (the microchipping of family pets) but RFID is a solution that crosses many industries and forms from asset tracking, inventory management and tool tracking through to race timing, attendee tracking and access control.

What is NFC?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is a method of transmitting information or data from an NFC label, sticker or tag to an NFC enabled phone. Android phones also use NFC with the Android Beam service to share data between phones. NFC doesn’t use wifi, 3g, 4g, LTE or bluetooth to send or receive information – it’s an entirely different technology.

What is NFC used for?

NFC is used on a wide range of products ranging from smart labels for food, smart posters, marketing opportunities and even for automating certain tasks in your home. Many companies are starting to understand that NFC gives customers the opportunity to tap on a label (sometimes embedded into a product label or poster) to get more information about the product, brand or service.

NFC is also the technology that’s used for security cards to enter buildings and transport cards like Go Card, Opal Card, Myki, Metrocard, etc.

How is NFC different to RFID?

There are many similarities between RFID and NFC, however there are also some stark contrasts. The major difference between the two technologies is the range at which information can be picked up by a reader between the two. Near Field Communication – as the name suggests, only has a range of around 4cm between label / sticker and the reader (in most cases a phone). This is why much of the technology uses the term ‘tap’ in its messaging as you literally need to tap your phone, card or tag close to the reader for the data to be picked up.

Radio Frequency Identification uses radio waves and an antenna to help extend the range that data can be picked up by a reader.

RFID also has two types of tags – passive and active.

What are Passive RFID tags?
Passive RFID tags have no power source and use the radio wave energy sent out by the antenna / reader combination to relay the information stored in the chip / sticker back to the reader.

What are active RFID tags?
Active RFID tags have a power source attached to the tag or label. This can extend the range that the tag can be read and can also assist in high speed reading like toll roads. The fact that active tags have an additional power source and are typically encased in a rugged plastic housing makes them ideal for use in areas where temperature or environmental conditions are extreme (very hot or very cold environments) or where interference from metal and water may be an issue.

Are there different power requirements between the two technologies?

Yes. NFC uses the power from your phone to read the data that’s embedded in the tag or label. RFID tags can be either passive or active as outlined above – this means that RFID labels will use power to transmit data.

In terms of the systems that read data from both NFC and RFID tags, the RFID systems will use a little more power as they’re also running an antenna system and depending on how your RFID system is set up, the readers and tags might be constantly transmitting data between each other which will increase that power usage of this system.

Are there cost differences between NFC and RFID?

Yes, NFC is typically a cheaper solution to install and purchase labels for because there’s no additional technology needed if you’re using them for promotional or customer information purposes (the cost of the reader is in the customer's phone).

RFID on the other hand can be a complete tracking solution for assets, tools, shipping containers, etc. This being the case the range of RFID labels and tags available is varied. For example active RFID labels encased in a tough plastic, metal or rubber case can range anywhere between $4 and $20 depending on it’s variations. This means that these types of tags are usually delegated to tracking high cost items like shipping containers, machinery and tools, etc.

Is there a difference in storage size between NFC and RFID?

This isn’t really the right question to be asking because RFID and NFC have two very different uses. RFID tags typically will store a tracking number or serial number that enables you to track individual products by their unique code. This being the case there isn’t a need to have huge amounts of storage or storage size variations in the tags.

Which is more secure – NFC or RFID?

By the very nature of the information that’s stored in RFID tags they could be classes as ‘more secure’ because if someone was to able to hack in to gather information or change a tag's information (unlikely), they’re really only changing a stock, SKU or inventory tracking number. Whilst this may be troublesome to a business, it’s hardly likely to be a major problem.

NFC tags on the other hand can be easily be reprogrammed if they’re not written properly, meaning that if you find a smart poster or product that’s tag isn’t set to ‘read-only’, you could overwrite this tag using an NFC writing App like our NFC Easiwayv Tools app.

How fast is the data transfer of NFC and RFID?

Again this isn’t really the right question to be asking. Because of the close proximity nature of NFC data is transferred almost immediately, however if an active RFID tag is hundreds of meters away, it may take fractions of a second more to reach the reader, either way the time it takes to transmit and gather data is minute and inconsequential.

What’s the range on NFC compared to RFID?

This is where RFID really comes into it’s own. Given that RFID tags can have their own power source means that their range can be up to 100m and beyond. NFC has a range of around 4cm.

In saying this, depending on the frequency of the RFID system used, this will impact on its range. Below are some approximate ranges for the different frequencies in RFID.

  • Low Frequency (125-134kHz) - Up to 10cm
  • High Frequency (13.56mHz) - Up to 30cm
  • Ultra High Frequency (856mHz to 960mHz) - Up to 100m

Hopefully this article gives you a much better understanding of RFID vs NFC, the different uses and applications of the technologies and how they may help your business.

If you’re interested in finding out more about NFC or RFID labels and solutions for your business, please feel free to call us on 1800 077 375 or contact us.