RFID vs. NFC: What's the difference between them?

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RFID and NFC are common technologies that we are used to. If you are not too familiar with these terms, this guide promises to provide detailed information on what they stand for. More so, this guide shows how they are quintessential in our everyday life.

RFID is the full form of Radio-Frequency Identification, allowing communication between a powered reader and an unpowered tag. The RFID system comprises a tag or transponders and a reader that has an antenna. 

There are two dissimilar types of RFID tags, and they are either passive or active. The active RFID tags come with their power source. At the same time, the passive RFID tag comes with no power source. Instead, they get their energy through a reader-induced electromagnetic field.

Passive RFID tags have three diverse RFID frequency ranges: LF (Low Frequency), HF (High Frequency), and UHF (Ultra-High Frequency). For the LF and HF systems, the reading range is around a few centimeters. While for the UHF tags, the readability distance is more than a meter.

For asset monitoring, logistic functions, and a host of others, RFID technology comes in handy.

NFC is the full form of Near-Field Communication, and it functions basically on the RFID protocols. And from its name, this technology allows short-range contact between matching devices. For Near Field Communication, you need a transmitting device and a receiving device to get signals. Various devices can use Near Field Communication, and they will be either active or passive.

Examples of passive NFC devices are tags and small transmitters, which send transmitters to NFC devices. Passive NFC tags do not need a power source. And they cannot process any data or information from external sources. A good everyday example of NFC devices is displayed on advertisements and walls.

An overview of Radio Frequency Identification

Radio Frequency Identification technology is used in our everyday lives. The reality is, we don’t pay attention to it. It would amaze you to know that RFID technology finds its use in one device or the other in various spheres of life.

Radio Frequency Identification Technology, RFID for short, uses radio waves to transmit, store, and recover data. RFID often comes in handy for item identification and gets instant data on some specific product without a need for physical contact.

There are two types of RFID systems, and they are passive and active RFID systems.

The passive RFID system comprises parts, namely the RFID tags, the RFID antenna, and the RFID reader. Passive tags receive their signals from the RFID reader. This reader transmits energy to the antenna, which transforms the energy into a radio frequency wave transmitted to the read zone.

The internal antenna in the RFID tag taps energy from the radio frequency waves. And from there, the energy enters into the tag’s antenna and then the IC, which powers the radio chip that sends a signal to the radio frequency system.

Passive RFID tags are commonly used in various industries like healthcare, logistics, and the likes. Now, passive RFID tags do not function at the same frequency. Rather, there are three primary RFID frequencies, namely the Low frequency (LF: 125- 134 kHz), High frequency (HF: 13.56 MHz), and Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 865- 960 MHz).

The active RFID system comprises parts, namely the tag, a reader, and an antenna. The active RFID tags come with an internal battery, which is their power source. With this internal battery, they can attain very long read ranges and massive storage banks.

Typically, the active RFID system works with two primary frequencies: the 433 MHz and 2.45 GHz. People use the 433 MHz frequency because its wavelength is more extended, making it function better with non-friendly radio frequency materials like water and metal.

The batteries of active RFID tags typically last around three-five years. However, when the battery stops working, it gets replaced.

An overview of Near Field Communication

Near-Field Communication works similarly to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other forms of wireless signals. It works by transmitting information and data via radio waves. One of the common standards for wireless information and data transition is Near-Field Communications. Hence, before it can work within devices, they have to be compatible by adhering to the required specifications.

Interestingly, Near-Field Communication works with the technology found in older Radio-frequency identification concepts. This technology uses electromagnetic induction to send information. Hence, this indicates one primary difference between Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and NFC. You can use the NFC to produce electric currents in passive components and also send data. 

With this information in mind, it implies that passive devices do not need a power supply. Instead, they can be powered via the electromagnetic field that an active NFC component produces when it is in range.

NFC technology cannot produce much inductance that can power our mobile devices. However, QI wireless charging uses the same principle in the NFC technology.

When it comes to the frequency transmission of data in NFC, it is around 13.56 MHz. Hence, you can transmit data at 424, 212, or 106 kilobits per second. And this is fast enough for varying data transfers. This implies you can easily send media files like music and pictures.

The Near-Field Communication standard has three various operation modes. And commonly, the one used in mobile phones is the peer-peer mode. This mode allows two NFC-compatible devices to transmit any form of information. With this mode, both mobile devices would either function as the active or passive device depending on who is sending and receiving.

The second operation mode in Near-Field Communication is the Read and Write mode. This is a one-way data and information transmission. In this type of operation, the active device, which is usually your mobile device, connects with another device to copy information. All NFC advertisement tags work with this model.

The third operation mode is card emulation. The Near-Field Communication device can work as a smart credit card that makes payments. Also, it can be used in public transport systems.

What are the differences between NFC and RFID? Are they even different at all?

  1. Cost difference

It is more affordable to install NFC because there is no need to purchase extra technology if you use it for customer promotional purposes. However, RFID technology is a whole tracking solution that can be used in various industries. Hence, it is more expensive than NFC.

  1. Storage difference

NFC and RFID have varying uses, so their storage pattern is different. RFID tags store details like serial codes, tracking numbers, and the likes to target products with their special codes. Hence, the storage variation between the two is not much.

  1. Security difference

When you look at the type of information stored on RFID tags, it is correct to say that they offer more security than NFC. The fact is, it is improbable for anyone to hack and get information from an RFID tag. It is going to be a big problem for anyone who tries to do it.

For NFC tags, any smart techie could easily reprogram it if it is not written well.

  1. Data transfer

For data transfer in RFID and NFC tech, they function almost the same way. When you want to transfer data from NFC, it enters almost instantly because of the proximity. On the other hand, if an active RFID tag is positioned some meters away, it would take some seconds before it reaches the reader.

  1. Range

Since RFID tags come with their power source, they can have a maximum range of 100m. In comparison, the NFC does not match this figure as it has a range of about 4cm.

Which is better, RFID or NFC?

It is essential to know that RFID and NFC are technologies that have their peculiarities and use. Both technologies were created majorly to effortlessly store and send information between two or more devices. When you look at their short-forms’ full meanings, you will see that RFID comes in handy primarily for identification while NFC focuses on communication.

This analysis, implies that RFID is very useful when it comes to the storage and processing of basic information at any volume. In comparison, NFC can store more complex data, and it has greater flexibility in the storage and interpretation of data.

It would also interest you to know that both devices can be used at your events depending on the peculiar role. For instance, RFID wristbands come in handy for seamlessly checking your guests in, and NFC works well for cashless payments at significant events.


To wrap up, it is imperative to note that both RFID and NFC technologies will continue to be useful in our everyday lives. It is predicted that RFID will be helpful in the production of innovation in the supply chain. One good example is the use of innovative RFID tags that tell customers the exact location of a product on the shelf.

For NFC, it has vast potentials to enhance the customer experience as they engage in market activities.

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