If you’re considering integrating technology into your business, you have probably come across “NFC” and “RFID.” The two terms can be confusing, but it’s critical to understand the difference before deciding which one to use.
Here, we extensively explore the NFC vs. RFID dilemma. What’s the difference between the two technologies? Which one is better for your business needs? Let’s take a closer look.
Definition Of Terms
Before we continue, let’s briefly define each term.
- NFC: Near-Field Communication
NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity standard that allows devices to exchange data over a distance of no more than 4 inches. It is used for mobile payments, but it can also be used for other purposes such as data sharing and connecting to NFC-enabled devices.
- RFID: Radio-Frequency Identification
RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to identify and track objects. RFID tags store data corresponding to specific objects. When an RFID reader reads the tag, the data is decoded and presented on a screen. This technology is often used for tracking inventory or for security purposes.
In-Depth Analysis Of NFC And RFID (Comparing & Contrasting)
- Near Field Communication NFC
As earlier stated, NFC is an advanced communication technology that allows two devices to share data wirelessly. It works by establishing a radio connection between two devices close to each other.
The technology is based on the principle of inductive coupling, which is a type of electromagnetic induction. This principle states that an electromagnetic field can be used to transmit energy from one place to another.
It operates at a frequency of 13.56 MHz, and it uses two different types of modulation: load modulation and amplitude-shift keying (ASK). Load modulation is used to transfer data, while ASK is for power control.
How NFC Technology Works
NFC requires two critical components to work flawlessly: an NFC reader and an NFC tag. These two devices must be placed close to each other (no more than 4 inches apart) for the NFC technology to work.
To help you understand better, we look at two different scenarios where NFC is used:
- Communication Between Two NFC-Enabled Phones
In this scenario, one phone acts as an NFC reader, while the other phone acts as an NFC tag. The two devices must be placed close to each other so that the NFC technology can establish a radio connection.
Once the radio connection is established, the two devices can exchange data. For example, you can use NFC to share photos, files, or contact information between two NFC-enabled phones.
This is a common application that is quickly replacing Bluetooth as the preferred method of data transfer between two mobile devices. As a result, most phone manufacturers are now integrating NFC into their devices.
For example, iPhones have had NFC since the iPhone 6, while Android phones have had NFC since the Google Nexus S. This advancement has enabled mobile devices to be used for contactless payments, ticketing, and other applications.
One clear example is the use of Apple Pay and Google Pay, which are two mobile payment platforms that use NFC technology. They enable users to make payments by holding their phones close to an NFC-enabled payment terminal.
- NFC Communication between NFC-Enabled Device and an NFC Reader
In this scenario, the NFC reader is used to read data from an NFC tag. It is the most common technique used in contactless payments. It involves placing an NFC-enabled device close to an NFC reader.
When the two devices are nearby, the NFC technology will establish an electromagnetic connection. The NFC reader will then be able to read the data stored on the NFC tag.
In such scenarios, the NFC-enabled device is linked to a payment account. When the device is held close to an NFC reader, it will transmit the payment information stored on the device. This will enable the user to make a payment without having to physically swipe or insert their card into the reader.
This is the technology that you use when you visit your local store. It is also the technology used in public transportation, such as trains and buses.
- Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology
Like NFC, RFID is also a wireless communication technology that uses electromagnetic fields to transfer data between two devices.
The main difference between the two technologies is that RFID is not limited to the 13.56 MHz frequency. Instead, it can operate at a range of frequencies, including 125 kHz, 134.2 kHz, 860 MHz to 960 MHz, and 2.45 GHz.
This diversity in operating frequency makes RFID a more versatile technology than NFC. It can be used in a variety of applications, such as tracking inventory, monitoring livestock, and even opening doors.
How RFID Technology Works
RFID technology requires several components to work optimally. They include:
An RFID tag is a small device that is attached to an object. It contains a microchip that stores information about the object to which it is attached. RFID tags come in three different forms:
- Active RFID Tags. These are the most expensive type of RFID tags. They contain their power source, which allows them to transmit information over long distances (up to 100 m). They are the best choice for tracking high-value items, such as vehicles.
- Passive RFID Tags. These are the most common type of RFID tags. They do not have their power source and instead rely on the electromagnetic energy transmitted by the RFID reader to power up. As a result, they have a shorter read range (up to 10 m). They are the best choice for tracking lower-value items, such as inventory.
- Battery-Assisted RFID Tags. These tags are a hybrid of active and passive RFID tags. They contain a battery to power their integrated circuits, but they also rely on the electromagnetic energy transmitted by the RFID reader to power up. They have a longer read range than passive ones.
While active tags are highly effective in asset tracking, they are expensive and difficult to maintain. They require regular battery replacement, which can be a hassle. Passive tags are the best choice for most applications because they are less expensive and easier to maintain.
An RFID reader is a device used to read the data stored on an RFID tag. It contains an antenna that emits electromagnetic waves.
When these waves come into contact with an RFID tag, they cause the microchip in the tag to power up. This enables the reader to read the data stored on the tag.
RFID readers come in different shapes and sizes. They can be handheld devices or fixed devices. Fixed RFID readers are less flexible since they must be placed in a specific location to work. However, they are more accurate since they do not have to be moved around to read tags.
On the other hand, handheld RFID readers are more flexible since you can carry them around. While they can be tiresome to carry around, they are the best choice for inventory tracking since they can be used to scan large numbers of tags.
RFID software is used to store, process, and analyze the data collected by RFID readers. It is an essential component of any RFID system.
The software can be used to track inventory, monitor assets, and even control access. It gives you the ability to see where your assets are at all times and keep track of them.
RFID software is available in different formats, including web-based, cloud-based, and client-server. Web-based RFID software is the most popular type. You can access it from any device as long as you have internet connection.
Cloud-based RFID software is also becoming popular. It is similar to web-based software, but it is hosted on a remote server. This makes it more scalable and easier to use.
Client-server RFID software is the most expensive type. It is installed on a local server and can only be accessed by devices that are connected to that server.
NFC Vs. RFID: What’s The Difference Between Them?
Differences Based on Functions
The functionality of NFC is limited to the following:
- Contactless Payments. This is the most common use of NFC. It allows you to make payments by waving your NFC-enabled device in front of a contactless payment terminal.
- Data Transfer. You can use NFC to transfer data between two NFC-enabled devices. This is commonly used to share photos, videos, and files.
- Smart Cards. Smart cards contain information readable by an NFC-enabled device. This information can include your contact information, payment information, and more.
On the other hand, RFID has diverse applications. In addition to the functions of NFC, RFID can also be used for the following:
- Asset Tracking. RFID tags can be attached to assets to track their location. This is commonly used in warehouses and inventory management.
- Access Control. RFID tags can be used to control access to buildings, rooms, and even vehicles.
- Event Tracking. RFID tags can be used to track people and objects at events. This is commonly used at concerts, festivals, and sporting events.
Differences Based on Frequency
NFC operates at a frequency of 13.56 MHz. This is the same frequency as HF RFID. However, NFC only supports data transfer rates of 424 kbps or lower.
On the other hand, RFID can operate at different frequencies, such as LF, HF, and UHF.
- Low Frequency (LF). This frequency is between 125 kHz and 134 kHz. It has a short read range of up to 10 centimeters. It also has a high tolerance to other radio waves. As such, its operations are not affected by the presence of metal or water.
- High Frequency (HF). This frequency is 13.56 MHz. It has a read range of 1 meter. HF RFID is more affected by the presence of other radio waves than LF RFID.
- Ultra-High Frequency (UHF). This frequency is between 860 MHz and 960 MHz. It has a long read range of up to 10 meters. UHF RFID is more affected by the presence of water and metal than HF RFID.
Differences Based on Data Rate
The data rate of NFC is limited to 424 kbps. This is because NFC only uses the HF band.
RFID can have data rates of up to 10 Mbps, depending on the frequency range it uses. For example, UHF RFID can have a data rate of up to 10 Mbps, while HF RFID has a data rate of up to 424 kbps.
The slower the data transfer rate, the longer it will take to transfer data. The faster the data transfer rate, the shorter it will take to transfer data.
Differences Based on Communication Protocol
NFC uses the following communication protocols: ISO 14443, FeliCa, and MIFARE.
- ISO 14443 is the most common protocol used by NFC-enabled devices. It is used in contactless payment systems, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.
- FeliCa is a protocol developed by Sony. It is mainly used in Japan for mobile payments and public transport.
- MIFARE is a protocol developed by NXP Semiconductors. It is used in access control, contactless payment, and public transport.
RFID uses the following communication protocols: EPCglobal Gen 2, ISO 18000-6C, and ISO 18000-6B.
- EPCglobal Gen 2 is the most common protocol used by RFID tags. It is used in supply chain management and asset tracking.
- ISO 18000-6C is a protocol developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is mainly used in Europe for supply chain management and asset tracking.
- ISO 18000-6B is a protocol developed by the ISO. It is mainly used in North America for access control and asset tracking.
NFC Vs. RFID: How To Choose The Best For Your Business
When choosing between NFC and RFID, you need to consider the following factors:
- The Frequency You Need. If you need a long read range, then you should choose RFID. If you need a short read range, you can choose either NFC or RFID.
- The Data Rate You Need. If you need a high data transfer rate, you should choose RFID. If you need a low data transfer rate, you can choose either NFC or RFID.
- Applications. How you want to use the technology will also be a deciding factor. For example, if you want to use it for contactless payments, you should choose NFC. If you want to use it for asset tracking, you can choose either NFC or RFID.
Whichever technology you choose, ensure it is compatible with your devices. For example, if you want to use NFC for contactless payments, you need a device with NFC (such as Google Wallet).