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Because there are many ways to utilize RFID technology, there are different types of RFID technologies.  These are passive, active, battery-assisted and RTLS (real-time location systems).

The most common is passive RFID

Passive RFID tags are used most often due to their flexibility and lower cost.  With passive RFID the reader and antenna supply the power, and radio waves from the reader reach the passive RFID tag to form an energy field.  Items are tracked as they move in and out of the read range.

Advantages of Passive RFID Technology:

  • No battery needed
  • Tags have a long performance life
  • Lower cost than active tags
  • Small size means greater flexibility

Because of the smaller-sized tags, they can be used on all kinds of consumer goods, electronics and other items.  However, they cannot be read from long distances.  Typically, only a few feet from the reader.

Advantages of Active RFID Technology:

  • Tags have their own power source
  • Read ranges can extend out to as much as 100 meters
  • Designed for large, high value items like containers, machinery, railcars, and vehicles
  • Location accuracy of +/- 1.6 meters

Active tags are often larger than passive tags, and typically more expensive.  Because the battery is onboard the tag, battery outages can affect readability of tags and require more maintenance. Certain types of active RFID tags can also measure and transmit temperature, humidity, light, and more affecting the items being tagged.

Unlike passive RFID which tracks materials moving into or out of an area, whether it’s in a manufacturing plant, warehouse, distribution center or healthcare facility.  RTLS tracks the movement of these materials, which provides adequate data regarding location of the items in real-time, as well as how they got there, and who moved them.

Scenario A
You have a shipment of boxes that need to be palletized and loaded on a truck, but the pallets need to be loaded in a certain order. With RTLS, users can see where each box is and load each pallet in the desired order.

Scenario B

Imagine a situation in a manufacturing facility where the parts that need to be used for assembly all look the same, but they are all serialized. On a shelf rack, it would be extremely difficult to identify which parts are which; RTLS can identify which part is the correct part to be pulled off the shelf.

See how easy it can be to set up  passive RFID technology with the Zebra ATR7000 RTLS & RFID Portal

Two more recent types of RFID and location technology are UWB and BLE.  Both operate using battery-operated tags, which in general, are more expensive that traditional RFID, but ideal for identifying the volume, location and condition of items in the warehouse.  In a nutshell:

  • UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) is used for applications where precise location information (within 30 cm in some cases) is needed for high-volume, fast-paced environments where real-time information is needed on a frequent basis. Learn more
  • BLE is a low-energy, Bluetooth proximity-based location solution ideal for short-range applications where data is being transferred to a mobile device like a smartphone (BLE can be used in server-based applications as well.  Learn more

Each type of technology offers features that can bring great benefits given the right environment.  That’s where partnering with a provider like Barcom can help. We walk through your processes together and based on a number of factors, including the type of material you need to track, the workflow currently in place, and what information you want to collect, will determine the best RFID technology for your organization.

Regardless of the type of RFID you choose, keep in mind that data tracking for any of these technologies can be collected in real-time, which gives users, managers and administrators the location data and other necessary information that can be downloaded directly to their device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) and seamlessly integrated into your ERP system.


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BARCOM, INC.  •  •  423-855-1822