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RFID vs NFC: What is the Difference?

rfid and nfc technology use and differences

When it comes to communication-based acronyms, they can be easy to get confused. In this case, our article’s focus is RFID and NFC. These two reasonably similar scanning technologies are in a variety of tracking applications. With this in mind, what are the significant differences between RFID and NFC?

The short answer: RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, a one-way communication method at varying distances. NFC, or Near Field Communication, is a version that allows for two-way communication. NFC is not totally contactless, typically requiring devices to be within a few inches of each other. 

In this article, we will be digging into more details about what makes RFID and NFC so different from each other. We will also be getting into some applications you see them used.

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What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a one-way communication method utilizing tags. These tags do not use any electricity and are found using an RFID scanner. The scanner can notice the RFID tags, but they have no additional uses on their own. 

RFID scanners are useful because you can also scan them at a distance of several feet. That makes them incredibly useful for scanning parking tags, as the entrance gate can open as the correct tags approach. As you may expect, this is what makes RFID different from NFC. 

The frequency level dictates RFID’s distance:

  • Low frequency (LF) is the shortest
  • High frequency (HF) is a medium distance
  • Ultra-high frequency (UHF) can go up to ten feet.

LF and HF ranges are relatively limited, typically within a few inches. UHF is more appropriate for long-range applications, as this frequency can scan out several feet. Neither of the above options is inherently better than the other. The only difference is in the distance, which makes RFID appropriate for a variety of applications.

RFID tags also come in two different forms of transponders:

  • Active tags 
  • Passive tags

Active tags are unique among RFID tags because they are continually transferring a signal out. That means as the active RFID tag approaches a scanner, the scanner recognizes the signal being transmitted. While you might be worried about battery life with active tags, RFID tags’ battery life is a decade.

Passive RFID tags do not have any battery, so they last much longer. As a result, these last much longer than active tags. Passive tags take their power from the available scanner. Passive tags are also far smaller, allowing them to be less noticeable. 

How Is RFID Used?

RFID is best for keeping tabs on your assets. For example, RFID can be used to track more expensive items in a retail environment. So if someone decides to stuff a PS5 in their shirt, the RFID tag will cause alarms to go off.

As a result of the passive usage, RFID tags are also great for the supply chain management. Suppose you need to find out whether some of your supplies have passed through a checkpoint. In that case, RFID tags are an inexpensive option for tracking your inventory’s location. 

UHF RFID can scan for things several feet away. Because of this, they are great for parking structures and lots where someone isn’t actively patrolling them. Typically, you purchase a tag to place on the front of your car, and you use that tag to gain access to their parking. 

Below are a couple of other examples of what you can use RFID tracking for:

What Is NFC?

Near Field Communication (NFC) is born of the same technology like RFID. The most significant difference comes with peer-to-peer communication. Rather than the scanner receiving or sending information, both ends can receive and give up information. 

NFC is also only usable at short-range communication. As a result, NFC technology needs to be incredibly close to each other. Your smartphone uses NFC technology for a variety of applications we will get into later. 

NFC typically comes in two different modes: 

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P)
  • Card emulation

Card emulation settings on your NFC device emulate the usage of credit or debit cards. As a result, this allows people who would typically forget their credit cards to have an additional payment method. This also allows for contactless payment, which reduces the spread of germs. 

P2P communication allows you to share information between two different smartphones. Suppose you have ever seen the setting on your phone to communicate with nearby devices based on proximity. By merely locating your phones nearby each other, you can send images and other documents. 

NFC communications do not have to be limited to smartphones. As smart technology is installed into every aspect of our lives, we will (and currently are) seeing more applications.

How Is NFC Used?

We’ve already mentioned the usage of smartphone applications. NFC applications are most popular in contactless payment and data transfer. 

Given that data comes in many forms, you can also use NFC to use the same applications. This means you can feasibly play the same game or see the same schedule on each of your phones. Data, in this case, refers to any shared experience on your phone. 

You can also use it for a variety of other applications:

  • Data transfer of instructions from a smartphone to a smart device.
  • Unlocked router by having your smartphone transfer the password
  • Having a chip under your skin that transfers health data to a doctor’s smart device 

Bluetooth vs. NFC

People are often comparing NFC and Bluetooth due to their similar applications. You pair devices, they communicate P2P, so why should I bother with NFC when Bluetooth is more popular?

Bluetooth may have an allowance for longer distances, but NFC requires less power and faster speed. You cannot transfer payments via Bluetooth with greater ease because each person would take about a minute to connect to a Bluetooth payment


What frequencies are RFID and NFC at?

NFC systems are on 13.56 MHz, which is the same as high-frequency RFID waves. Low-frequency RFID waves are at around 125 kHz, while UHF RFID varies from 868-930 MHz.

How Secure Is NFC?

Typically speaking, payment information is encrypted between the two connections. An incredibly committed hacker can get access to the data. To prevent this, keep the devices active only for the period that you need them. 

Which is better, RFID or NFC?

Neither is better; RFID and NFC are used in different ways. RFID is great for tracking your assets and allowing the right people inside. NFC is great for transmitting information between two locations.

Can NFC read RFID?

If the two are at the same frequency (HF), RFID can read certain tags. Given that an NFC is both a scanner and a passive object built together, they can work together. As a result, NFC scanners can also scan some passive tags.

What’s the difference between passive and active tags?

Active tags are continually transmitting a signal to RFID scanners. Passive tags do not release any information. Instead, passive tags gather their energy and information from active scanners for limited communication.

Final Thoughts on Differences of RFID and NFC

RFID and NFC both use similar communication styles. However, they have incredibly different types of applications. For this reason, neither can be deemed more useful than the other unless you narrow their usage down to specific applications.

NFC is great for P2P applications. You can use them to transfer data between smartphones. They are most often used in contactless payment methods, but are not truly considered contactless.

RFID is great for asset tracking, so you can know where your inventory is. Ultra-High Frequency options also can control and grant access, among other extraordinary things.

While the two have a similar general idea, their usage is almost entirely different.