active RFID vs. passive RFID

The Difference Between Passive RFID and Active RFID

 

Have you ever felt bamboozled by all the jargon in the RFID industry? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand all the terminology. There are just a few things you need to know to make an informed decision as to whether you need passive or active RFID tags.

 

What is a passive RFID tag?

A passive RFID tag, or more commonly known as the passive tag, is an RFID tag that does not contain any internal battery. Instead, it uses all the energy of the radio wave from the reader’s antenna to power its operation and to communicate back to the reader.

As there is no battery required, a passive RFID tag can last about 20 years and results in the lowest tag cost. The read range for a passive tag is typically about 3-5 metres in range, and therefore sufficient to cover a typical door, dock door or shop floor environment.

The term passive RFID tag is often used interchangeably with EPC Gen2 tags. EPC Gen2 is a widely adopted standard for passive RFID systems. If you would like to know in much more detail how RFID works, here’s an excellent paper for you to read.

 

What is an active RFID tag?

An active RFID tag uses a battery for its operations, and therefore can continuously broadcast its presence even without a reader. As it contains a battery, this will need to be replaced regularly. A battery could last only a few days, or it could operate for a few years depending on its size. Active RFID tags can communicate at considerable distances.

Active RFID tags are those typically used in industrial environments, either for active RTLS tracking within a factory or open yard tracking. There are almost no standards for the usage of active RFID, and as a result, it is only used in specific niche industrial applications. This type of tag can vary significantly in price and can cost anything from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars per tag.

 

So, what’s the difference between passive and active RFID tags?

The most significant difference between active and passive RFID tags is that an active tag has a battery and a passive tag does not.

Although an active tag can communicate at a much longer range, a passive RFID tag is still the preferred choice as it is significantly cheaper with lots of options to choose from due to its widely adopted standards. Operationally, it is also less expensive to maintain as passive tags do not require battery replacements.

In most use cases, having a shorter read range is an advantage – this way, you will be confident that the tagged item is right in front of you or the reader. This is especially useful when performing a rapid stock check across multiple tagged items using a handheld RFID reader.

 

Other things to consider

Bluetooth beacons, or BLE tags, is a type of active RFID tag but somewhat confusingly, they are typically not referred to as such. BLE tags are much more consumer-oriented and can communicate with most modern smartphones. By utilising the smartphone as the reader, this significantly reduces the cost and complexity of the entire infrastructure. However, BLE technology is still in its infancy and requires a significant drop in cost for it to become ubiquitous.

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