About RFID

RF Basics

Radio Frequency (RF) communications is based on laws of physics that describe the behavior of electromagnetic energy waves. For the purpose of providing a very cursory understanding of the technology this tutorial will use very informal terminology to describe what is happening.

General physics of radio signals

RF communication works by creating electromagnetic waves at a source and being able to pick up those electromagnetic waves at a particular destination. These electromagnetic waves travel through the air at near the speed of light. The wavelength of an electromagnetic signal is inversely proportional to the frequency; the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.

Frequency is measured in Hertz (cycles per second) and radio frequencies are measured in kilohertz (KHz or thousands of cycles per second), megahertz (MHz or millions of cycles per second) and gigahertz (GHz or billions of cycles per second). Higher frequencies result in shorter wavelengths. The wavelength for a 900 MHz device is longer than that of a 2.4 GHz device.

In general, signals with longer wavelengths travel a greater distance and penetrate through, and around objects better than signals with shorter wavelengths.

How does an RF communication system work?

Imagine an RF transmitter wiggling an electron in one location. This wiggling electron causes a ripple effect, somewhat akin to dropping a pebble in a pond. The effect is an electromagnetic (EM) wave that travels out from the initial location resulting in electrons wiggling in remote locations. An RF receiver can detect this remote electron wiggling.

The RF communication system then utilizes this phenomenon by wiggling electrons in a specific pattern to represent information. The receiver can make this same information available at a remote location; communicating with no wires.

In most wireless systems, a designer has two overriding constraints: it must operate over a certain distance (range) and transfer a certain amount of information within a time frame (data rate). Then the economics of the system must work out (price) along with acquiring government agency approvals (regulations and licensing).

How is range determined?

In order to accurately compute range ? it is essential to understand a few terms:
  • dB - Decibels
    Decibels are logarithmic units that are often used to represent RF power. To convert from watts to dB: Power in dB = 10* (log x) where x is the power in watts.
    Another unit of measure that is encountered often is dBm (dB milliwatts). The conversion formula for it is Power in dBm = 10* (log x) where x is the power in milliwatts.
  • Line-of-site (LOS)
    Line-of-site when speaking of RF means more than just being able to see the receiving antenna from the transmitting antenna. In, order to have true line-of-site no objects (including trees, houses or the ground) can be in the Fresnel zone. The Fresnel zone is the area around the visual line-of-sight that radio waves spread out into after they leave the antenna. This area must be clear or else signal strength will weaken.

There are essentially two parameters to look at when trying to determine range.

  • Transmit Power
    Transmit power refers to the amount of RF power that comes out of the antenna port of the radio. Transmit power is usually measured in Watts, milliwatts or dBm. (For conversion between watts and dB see below.)
  • Receiver sensitivity
    Receiver sensitivity refers to the minimum level signal the radio can demodulate. It is convenient to use an example with sound waves; Transmit power is how loud someone is yelling and receive sensitivity would be how soft a voice someone can hear. Transmit power and receive sensitivity together constitute what is know as ?link budget?. The link budget is the total amount of signal attenuation you can have between the transmitter and receiver and still have communication occur.

TX Power: 20dBm
RX Sensitivity: -110dBm
Total Link budget: 130dBm.

For line-of-site situations, a mathematical formula can be used to figure out the approximate range for a given link budget. For non line-of-site applications range calculations are more complex because of the various ways the signal can be attenuated.

Regulations and licensing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other regulatory bodies around the world have set up a series of regulations defining the emission levels and usage for all the different frequencies. Wireless Integrated radios operate within the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands that offer license free operation within certain frequencies. Within the United States, the most popular ISM band are at 902-928 MHz and 2.4 ? 2.4835 GHz. Portions of the 902-928 MHz band are also available in Canada, Mexico, Australia and Israel. The 2.4 GHz band is generally more accepted worldwide.

At certain power levels some regulatory agencies require some form of spread spectrum. Spread spectrum can either be done by frequency hopping or by direct sequence. Frequency hopping consists of rapidly moving from one channel to the next while maintaining synchronization with the receiver. Direct Sequence is more complex, but works by slicing the carrier up with a code that can be decoded at the other end. Wireless Integrated radios uses frequency hopping as its method of spread spectrum.

RF communications and data rate

Data rates are usually dictated by the system - how much data must be transferred and how often does the transfer need to take place. Lower data rates, allow the radio module to have better receive sensitivity and thus more range. In the RF modules the 9600 baud module has 3dB more sensitivity than the 19200 baud module. This means about 30% more distance in line-of-sight conditions. Higher data rates allow the communication to take place in less time, potentially using less power to transmit.

RFID Types

RFID is essentially available in 3 different types, each with their own benefits and limitations. In the Auto-ID industry UHF is the most common but it is useful to know how to distinguish each one.

LF (Low Frequency)
Low Frequency RFID operates at the 135kHz range and has a very short read range (an inch or 2 normally). This type of RFID essentially requires contact to a reader to capture the data. While this type is not useful for product tracking, you will find it embedded in IDs and other key Fob applications for access/parking control, authentication, event attendance management, ticketing, and card payment.

HF (High Frequency)
High Frequency RFID operates at the 13.56MHz range and has a short read range of about 5 inches normally but with specialized readers and larger tags you can reach almost 3ft. HF RFID tags have less interference issues than UHF so while their range is limited they are a good solution for small object tagging on automated lines. High speed reading is also possible which has made HF a good option in healthcare environments where small vials and samples need to be read.

UHF (Ultra High Frequency)
Ultra High Frequency RFID operates between 902-928 MHz in North America and has read ranges up to approximately 10ft. UHF has become the most used option in Auto-ID applications due to its long read range and dropping costs. UHF does have more issues with interference but a well designed system can overcome these issues. UHF RFID is also well suited to mounting on label stock making it the perfect item/container level tag option.



A passive tag does not contain a battery; the power is supplied by the reader. When radio waves from the reader are encountered by a passive tag, the coiled antenna within the tag forms a magnetic field. The tag draws power from it, energizing the circuits in the tag. The tag then sends the information encoded in the tag's memory.


An active RFID tag is equipped with a battery that can be used as a partial or complete source of power for the tag's circuitry and antenna. Some active tags contain replaceable batteries for years of use; others are sealed units.


Condition sensing tags not only have a battery, but also include circuitry that reads and transmits diagnostics back to its sensor system. The tags monitor the environmental conditions, communicate with other items and collaborate to collect data that no single sensor would be able to detect. The information is then fed into back-end systems using the network software.



RFID has many applications: 

RFID has many applications/uses, for example:

  • Asset management and retail sales
  • Payment by mobile phones
  • Promotion tracking (tracking of goods)
  • Access management
  • Transportation payments (toll roads)
  • Public transit (bus, rail, subway)
  • Machine readable travel documents
  • Airport Baggage Tracking Logistics
  • Museums
  • Tracking Sports memorabilia to verify authenticity
  • Animal identification and tracking
  • Human implants, etc. 


What is it and how does it work?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is the use of an object (typically referred to as an RFID tag) applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for the purpose of identification and tracking using radio waves. Some tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader.

RFID comprises interrogators (also known as readers), and tags (also known as labels).

Most RFID tags contain at least two parts. One is an integrated circuit for storing and processing information, modulating and demodulating a radio-frequency (RF) signal, and other specialized functions. The second is an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal.

There are generally three types of RFID tags: active RFID tags, which contain a battery and can transmit signals autonomously, passive RFID tags, which have no battery and require an external source to provoke signal transmission, and battery assisted passive (BAP) which require an external source to wake up but have significant higher forward link capability providing great read range.

A library RFID tag has information (data) encoded on the tag that contains a microchip and an antenna. The information is accessed by the reader. The physical tag is a couple of inches square and very thin. It has no batteries or power source as the energy needed to power and read the tag comes from the reader, which emits a signal that searches for a tag within its limited (?18 inches) range. When the signal hits the tag, the tag awakens and responds.


RFID, Radio Frequency Identification is a technology, which includes wireless data capture and transaction processing. Proximity (short range) and Vicinity (long range) are two major application areas where RFID technology is used. Track and trace applications are long range or vicinity applications. This technology provides additional functionality and benefits for product authentication. Access control applications are Short range or proximity type of applications. AgileSense Technologies is focused on delivering innovative, high value RFID solutions assisting companys track assets, people and documents. AgileSense provides robust and complete RFID solutions built on top of its extensible middleware/framework for Government, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Aerospace industries.


Asset Tracking:

Static or in-motion assets tracking or locating, like a healthcare facility, wheelchairs or IV pumps in, laptops in a corporation and servers in a data center, was not so easy task.

User can instantly determine the general location of tagged assets anywhere within the facility with the help of active RFID technology. Control point detection zones at strategic locations throughout the facility allow the user to define logical zones and monitor high traffic areas. Tagged assets moving through these control points provide instant location data.

Asset tracking applications will see an almost vertical growth curve in the coming years and the growth rate in this area will be much higher than the growth rate of general RFID market.

Electronic article surveillance for retail store loss prevention

People Tracking:

People tracking system are used just as asset tracking system. Hospitals and jails are most general tracking required places.

Hospital uses RFID tags for tracking their special patients. In emergency patient and other essential equipment can easily track. It will be mainly very useful in mental care hospitals where doctors can track each and every activity of the patient. Hospitals also use these RFID tags for locating and tracking all the activities of the newly born babies.

The best use of the people tracking system will be in jails. It becomes an easy tracking system to track their inmates. Many jails of different US states like Michigan, California, and Arizona are already using RFID-tracking systems to keep a close eye on jail inmates.

Document tracking:

This is most common problem. Availability of large amount of data and documents brings lots of problem in document management system. An RFID document-tracking system saves time and money by substantially reducing:

  • Time spent searching for lost document
  • The financial and legal impact associated with losing documents.

Government Library:

Many government libraries use barcode and electromagnetic strips to track various assets. RFID technology uses for reading these barcodes unlike the self-barcode reader RFID powered barcode reader can read multiple items simultaneously. This reduces queues and increases the number of customers using self-check, which in turn will reduce the staff necessary at the circulation desks.



Patient safety is a big challenge of healthcare vertical. Reducing medication errors, meeting new standards, staff shortages, and reducing costs are the plus points of use of RFID solutions. RFID wristbands containing patient records and medication history address several of these concerns.


It is estimated that RFID activity has impacted on around 250,000 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors globally, RFID will is now becoming a must have for organisations wishing to increase efficiency and profits, these benefits are mainly realised in the following areas;

  • Improvement in supply chain efficiency
  • Providing visibility for goods in storage and transit.
  • Accurate reporting which leads to reduced stock outages and reduced inventory levels
  • Reducing time to invoice for deliveries and improved cash flow
  • Implementing ?Just in time? delivery systems
  • Reduced inventory loss
  • Reduced supply chain shrinkage
  • Automated proof of delivery
  • Reduced labour costs
  • Reduced spoilage
  • Integration with ERP and backend systems

RFID is a technology that has a huge potential impact on business processes and systems, it is often considered as a logical development from the barcode as a tool for gaining increased productivity through automation. When used in conjunction with complementary technologies such as GPS, GPRS and 802.11* solutions the potential uses and power for additional automation and financial savings increases still further. We will help you decide if RFID is a technology you should be implementing.


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