RFID vs. NFC: What’s the Difference?

Wireless data transfer is the future of securely sharing information, tracking assets, and more. The capabilities of Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) have barely started scratching the surface across industries like fleet management, commerce, and others. But when considering NFC versus RFID, do you know which is right for you? Do you know the difference between RFID and NFC? The differences aren’t as complicated as you might think, so we’ll highlight some, as well as practical industry uses.

When it comes down to it, NFC is a type of RFID. So, while all NFC is considered RFID, not all RFID is NFC. Let’s compare the two, side by side, to better understand where they overlap and what makes them different.

What Is RFID?

RFID is an overarching term used for tags that wirelessly transmit data using radio frequencies.

RFID tags can be as small as a few centimeters in size and can be placed in an object or its packaging to receive communication radio waves. A complete system using RFID tags consists of four parts: the tag, an antenna, a reader, and a host system that processes the data. The tags can be active or passive. An active tag has an internal power source. The power source and tag are self-contained as a single unit, enabling it to continuously communicate with a reader.

In contrast to an active tag, a passive tag doesn’t have its own power source. Rather, it is powered by being in proximity to a reader. The electromagnetic field provides energy that powers up the passive tag. When the passive tag activates, it can transmit data to the reader.

What is RFID

RFID Standards

Passive RFID tags that are in operation have established standards to ensure that new technology is produced within industrywide regulations to maintain compatibility and consistent functionality.

low frequency

Low frequency (LF): 125–134 kHz This frequency is commonly used for hotel key cards.

high frequency

High frequency (HF): 13.56 MHz Also known as NFC or Near-Field Communications. This frequency is commonly used for contactless credit cards and tickets.

ultra-high frequency

Ultra-high frequency (UHF):
856–960 MHz

Also known as RAIN RFID.* This frequency is commonly used for inventory management and specialized asset tracking.

Get a GS1 Company Prefix

Get Started with RFID with a GS1 Company Prefix

When you license a GS1 Company Prefix, you can create serialized GTINs to be used in your Electronic Product Code (EPC), which is the unique identifier for RFID tags.

What Is NFC?

An NFC device operates specifically on high-frequency radio waves at 13.56 MHz. When people use Apple Pay or Google Pay through their smartphones and tablets, they are using NFC to transfer money.

While wireless data transfer via NFC tags is generally safe, it does come with minimal security risks. Eavesdropping is possible if a device is close enough to steal data during a transfer. However, this is not easy because the device will need to be within a few centimeters. Interception devices can be placed near a phone or tablet to take information if the device is placed near it. Ultimately, theft of an NFC device, whether it’s a phone, tablet, key card, or another device, poses the most significant security threat.

NFC Forum Specifications

Industry standards are set to ensure all NFC devices are compatible and communicate effectively.

ISO/IEC  14443 (Type A and Type B), ISO/IEC 15693: Specifies the RFID communication used by NFC devices (communicates wirelessly at 13.56 MHz.) The use of this frequency helps to prevent tags from being read over larger distances, thus increasing data security and privacy protection.

ISO/IEC 18092 and ISO/IEC 21481: Specifies near-field communication interface and polling sequences for an NFC reader to access different types of NFC tags.

What is NFC
GS1 US University

Demystify RFID Technology

New to the technology that powers RFID? Learn the technical details of RFID and the key elements you need to get started. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The real answer to which is better depends on what you want to use it for. RAIN RFID is best for inventory management and asset tracking because it offers a broad-spectrum solution to your problem with long-range capabilities. NFC is best for single communication over small distances.

NFC has a wide range of uses to transfer data securely. Many retailers use NFC devices daily for payments with Apple Pay and Google Pay. They’re also used in travel and event tickets, student and employee ID badges, and healthcare monitoring. Whether transferring anything from payment information to sharing wifi passwords encrypted company files, or simply using an NFC tag to open a door, there is a plethora of applications.

RFID tags are often used within a few meters, while NFC tags are limited to centimeters.

Understanding the overlap and differences between RFID and NFC will help you decide which is right for you. Each serves users with unique functionality that can help to streamline business operations and better serve your customers.

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