RFID: What You Need To Know

March 1, 2004
By Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions Although the potential benefits of RFID could be significant, there are substantial technical, financial and psychological

By Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions

Although the potential benefits of RFID could be significant, there are substantial technical, financial and psychological challenges that must be addressed before the promise of RFID can be fully realized. Companies should neither believe all the current hype in the marketplace, nor rush to implement applications before the technology and financial justification have been proven. However, neither can companies afford to wait until all risks have been eliminated before joining this supply chain revolution. Those who begin now with prudent investments will gain competitive advantage over those who hold back. Here's a summary of things you need to know to make informed decisions.

What is it?

Radio frequency identification technology is an automatic way to collect product, place, time or transaction data quickly and easily without human intervention or error.

An RFID system comprises a reader (or interrogator), its associated antenna and the transponders (tags/ RFID cards) that carry the data.

The reader transmits a radio signal, through its antenna, that the tag receives via its own antenna. The tag will briefly converse with the reader for verification and the exchange of data. Once the reader receives that data, it can be sent to a controlling computer for processing and management.

An RFID tag consists of a microchip attached to an antenna. RFID tags are developed using a frequency according to the needs of the system including read range and the environment in which the tag will be read.

Active tags are RFID tags that have their own independent power source via a battery that is either internal with the tag itself or external that it shares with other resources such as a car battery to supply its required voltage. This type of tag allows for greater read/write distance capabilities but is generally larger in physical size and is a little more expensive than passive tags. Typically an active tag can transmit an effective RF signal up to 300 feet indoors and up to 1,000 feet outdoors. Life expectancy varies depending on power supply and usage.

Passive tags are RFID tags that have no independent power source and get all the power from the transceiver directly when activated. This type of tag is also much smaller, and less expensive, which gives it a wider range of applications in which its size and shape can be utilized. Effective range is less than 10 feet. With no battery source to deal with, passive tags ideally have an unlimited life span.

An RFID reader usually connected to a personal computer serves the same purpose as a bar code scanner. It can also be battery-powered to allow mobile transactions with RFID tags. The RFID reader handles the communication between the information system and the RFID tag.

An RFID antenna connected to the RFID reader can be of various size and structure, depending on the communication distance required for a given system's performance. The antenna activates the RFID tag and transfers data by emitting wireless pulses.

An RFID station is made up of an RFID reader and an antenna. It can read information stored into the RFID tag and also update this RFID tag with new information. It generally holds application software specifically designed for the required task. RFID stations may be mounted in arrays around transfer points in industrial processes to automatically track assets as they are moving through the process.

About the author: Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions, can be reached at 260-496-8259.

Recent articles:

Defense Department Scales Down RFID Plan; http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/cmp/20031209/tc_cmp/16600185

Defense Dept. working to resolve RFID standards issue; http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/erp/story/0,10801,87808,00.html

Wal-Mart to begin phased RFID tag rollout next year; http://www.computing.co.uk/News/1148506.html

Wal-Mart's RFID Deadline: A Chunky Mess; http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,4149,1414163,00.asp

AmEx Expands RFID Payment Trial; http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/505/1/1/.html

Military's RFID Alternative: IPv6; http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/609.html

RFID is big but nobody understands the costs; http://www.usingrfid.com/news/read.asp?lc=k19752px58zu.html

Other articles in this series:

Part 1: The Basics

Part 2: The Frequencies

Part 3: The Standards

Part 4: The Challenges

Part 5: The Rollout