RFID Journal LIVE! 2014: Some RFID Basics And Some Common Threads

Hello everyone, welcome back to our series of posts from RFID Journal LIVE! 2014. Whilst some of our recent posts have addressed the basics of asset tagging and item identification technology [‘Which barcode is best?’, ‘Barcode vs RFID’ & ‘Playing off HF & UHF RFID’], there was some thought-provoking content in a few RFID Journal LIVE! conference presentations that I think is worth relaying.

If you are considering RFID in the future then we hope this will add to your knowledge base. If you’re already familiar with the technology, this post might help you to take a step back, think about your entire system and take a quick reality check to make sure all the components of your system are optimised.

The following is an extract from Mark Roberti’s presentation. Mark is the founder and editor of RFID Journal, the host of RFID Journal LIVE! 2014.

What is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification and is a generic term denoting:

  • The ability to identify a unique object remotely using non-contact radio waves
  • Information is carried via radio waves
  • Data is usually stored on microchips
  • RFID tags can be active or passive
  • Systems use a variety of frequencies/protocols to transmit data via radio waves

What are the 5 key components of an RFID system?

  1. Transponders – tags or labels made up of a chip, antenna, substrate, with sometimes a battery
  2. RFID reader [also called interrogator] – made up of one or multiple antennas, a digital signal processor, a network port, input/output ports and a power source
  3. Edge server – runs filtering middleware which can, for example, reject data, record numbers read only once or format data
  4. Network appliances – manage reader/data flow with devices that can sit on the network and check the readers [i.e. just like checking for a heartbeat]. Most RFID readers now run on a LAN or WAN.
  5. Software – firmware on the reader, applications that run on the reader, middleware or enterprise applications.

How does an RFID system work [Generically-speaking]?

  • The RFID reader emits energy [RFID readers are often called interrogators]
  • The RFID tag responds when it receives the energy and then sends back information that is stored on the tag to the reader
  • The RFID reader converts radio waves into ones and zeros
  • The network carries binary data to the middleware for filtering
  • The middleware passes data to enterprise applications

What are the types of RFID systems?

RFID systems can be broken down into three broad categories.

  1. Active RFID systems [Whereby the RFID tags have their own power source to broadcast the signal]
  2. Passive RFID systems [The RFID tags have no power source and only reflect energy from the reader. So, in passive systems, the RFID reader transmits energy which essentially ‘wakes up’ the RFID tag]
  3. Battery-assisted tags [The RFID tags have a power source such as a battery but communicate like passive tags thereby reducing the drain on the battery]

Are there alternatives to RFID?

There are several non-RFID systems that can be used for item or asset identification or real-time asset management:

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves the human ear can’t hear and the reader is essentially a microphone, it gives a precise reading but you can’t read through walls.
  • Infrared: Infrared reading requires line of sight
  • 2D/QR barcodes: However, barcode reading requires direct line of sight so you can’t read items that are for example in a box

RFID Journal LIVE! 2014 conference common threads

If there were some common threads running throughout the conference, which were reinforced by Mark’s presentation, they were:

‘Organisations must view RFID as infrastructure not just a point solution!’

A point solution will only solve one-problem-at-a-time. Whereas building an RFID infrastructure will support multiple applications now and into the future, effectively ‘future-proofing’ your organisation.

‘It’s all about the data!’

Typically organisations want to hone straight in on then hardware – i.e. the RFID tags and readers. They want to physically see and handle the tags, try them out and know how much each will cost. Way too much organisational resources and airtime is consumed by proving the success of a tag read when in fact it is the data that is going to transform your business.

‘Focus on the big picture and the real return on investment!’

Mark gave a great example of where organisations often go off-track by focussing on the wrong part of the equation. At some point, most RFID discussions move into the ‘barcodes are cheaper than RFID’ territory. Yes barcodes are cheaper than RFIDs, but the barcode is only the data carrier. Getting the information off the carrier is typically not cheaper because people still need another process [and another cost] to get the data off a barcode tag. Whereas RFID tags [and the information] can be read automatically.

‘Don’t skimp on the site survey!’

RFID is not yet plug-and-play so organisations still need to do their homework so to speak. Even though the technology is more robust and less prone to interference these days, a basic site survey should always be done as part of technical data gathering.

‘Serialised data is key!’

Serialised data is a new concept and unfortunately most of today’s enterprise information systems do not work that way [NB assetDNA does]. A serialised RFID system, whereby organisations can assign a unique serial number to each and every thing they want to extract data from, is key and should be complementary to existing corporate information systems.

As always, if you want to learn more about the points touched on in this article, please feel free to reach out to us on +61 (0)2 9998 9000.